Singaporean investor RICHARD CHANDLER believes he has a better concept than the futuristic electric vertical-takeoff air taxis that have garnered all the attention and billions in venture capital.
Traditional battery-powered aircraft that are cheaper to operate and more dependable than turboprops.
An F/A-18 fighter aircraft rips down the runway at Grant County International Airport in eastern Washington state, shattering the peace of a chilly November day as it barrels through rows of undeliverable Boeing 737 MAX planes.
The Eviation Alice, a white aircraft stored in a neighboring hangar, is a potential game-changer in the fight to silence airplanes and eliminate their carbon footprint.
The sleek twin-engine is completely battery-powered and made aviation history in September when it took flight as the heaviest electric aircraft ever at almost 16,000 pounds, looking like a mix between a Cessna Citation and a balloon animal.
Richard Chandler, a 63-year-old Singaporean billionaire investor, has a personal stake in the outcome since he owns both Eviation and MagniX, the firm that manufactures Alice’s electric engines.
George Watt, his uncle on his father’s side, was a test pilot for the RAF during World War II and helped develop the first Allied jet engine.
He has an uncle named Tony Guina on his mother’s side who used to be a car mechanic but is now an inventor who spent a lot of time creating powerful electric motors.
Chandler, who was born in New Zealand, supported Guina financially for a long time, mostly as a favor to his mother.
The notion of installing these plug-in engines in Jeepneys in Manila to reduce air pollution was floated by Chandler, but it became clear that they would always be too costly for buses.
In 2017, he was told they may be useful in aircraft.There would be several benefits to having all-electric conventional aircraft.
Benefits include, but are not limited to, improved air quality and reduced energy and maintenance expenses (Eviation estimates savings of 40% to 80%).
(electric motors have far fewer moving parts). However, it will be decades before batteries can provide enough energy to move the large jetliners that transport the vast majority of passengers.
Investors have demonstrated interest in electric aircraft, despite widespread skepticism from the traditional aviation sector, albeit this interest has been focused mostly on the most cutting-edge models capable of vertical takeoff and landing.
Air taxis that could effortlessly glide between buildings have been the subject of billions of dollars in research and development.
The Northern California firm, Joby Aviation, received $820 million in venture capital from companies including Intel and Toyota before going public in a $1.1 billion SPAC offering in 2021.
While most people would agree that tiny conventional aircraft should not be electrified, Chandler argued otherwise.
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Changing just the propulsion system would be more simpler and less expensive. And with fewer modifications, safety authorities may rest easier.
Initially, his idea with MagniX was to retrofit existing airplanes with environmentally friendly electric engines in place of gas guzzlers. Alternatively, you may design and construct a brand-new aircraft. in the same vein as Alice.
To demonstrate the viability of MagniX’s engines in an aircraft built from the ground up for electric propulsion, he invested 70% in an Israeli firm in 2019. Chandler likens the nine-seater Alice to a Tesla Model S in terms of electric aircraft.
Costing $7–8 million (more than twice as much as a standard turboprop of comparable seat capacity), the Alice will have a similarly limited range as Elon Musk’s initial $95,000 battery-powered vehicle (250 miles at best).
But Chandler is certain that Alice will spark the development of electric aircraft in a sector that is still suspicious of them. A precursor to a “seismic upheaval in aviation,” he believes.
He is used to taking risks that go against popular opinion. Beginning in the middle of the 1980s, he amassed a $2.6 billion fortune by aggressively unorthodox investments in a broad variety of sectors (telecom, utilities, and banking) in Russia and emerging countries spanning Asia and Latin America.
A total of about $180 million has been spent on Eviation, with further millions going into MagniX. They both decided to move to the Seattle area to take advantage of the region’s thriving aerospace industry, which is led by Boeing.
For the time being, Eviation’s income is negligible. MagniX has a more defined near-term development path, having won a $74 million contract from NASA in 2021 to develop electric propulsion for bigger aircraft.
Already, the company has sold a small number of engines to clients who are experimenting with retrofitting their own planes with the greener models.
There would be less of a range, but for certain aviation groups, it would be good enough today, especially with the prospect of even greater range from future advances in batteries.
Harbour Air, headquartered in Vancouver, has been putting a MagniX-powered Beaver seaplane through its paces since 2019.
More than adequate for its numerous local 25-minute runs, it estimates that it can transport three or four people for a half an hour with reserves.
United Therapeutics plans to use MagniX electrified Robinson R44 helicopters for flights of up to an hour in order to transport transplant organs.
MagniX anticipates that the FAA will grant approval for widespread usage of the engines before the end of the decade, in 2024.
The price tag on these is yet unknown. It had been previously said that the company’s goal was to have the cost of retrofitting a small conventional aircraft with its top-of-the-line 650-kilowatt engine be equal to the cost of a standard overhaul of a comparable turboprop engine, which may reach over $300,000.
However, Chandler now claims that MagniX’s engines need to be priced more to make up for the Achilles’ heel of their predicted durability: decreased income from maintenance, which is the lifeblood of traditional engine manufacturers.
McKinsey projects that around 12,000 older small aircraft throughout the world are amenable to conversion to battery electric or hybrid systems (MagniX is also developing these).
In addition, they are collaborating with Universal Hydrogen, a business based on Southern California, to install fuel cells in smaller aircraft with seating for 40 passengers.
Conversely, Chandler is quite optimistic about Alice’s future. To underutilized, tiny airports that are too costly for present airlines to fly into for package delivery and passenger service, he and other evangelists believe that planes like it would enhance regional service.
Instead of taking a train or driving 200–250 miles, he suggests taking an on-demand Alice from a small airport near you.
The common person’s understanding of aviation may be altered as a result of this discovery.
Whether or whether Alice will travel that far, and if there is indeed a market for it, are two unanswered issues.
Eviation boasts over $2 billion in orders for almost 300 aircraft, while the vast majority of them are not binding.
Launch client DHL has placed a binding order for 12 cargo-configured aircraft. Alice is most comfortable with lightweight e-commerce packaging.
Because of its exceptionally large 6-foot-4-inch midsection, the aircraft can carry 8,200 pounds of batteries, but can only carry a fraction of that weight compared to other planes of its size.
Cape Air, a short-haul airline located in New England, is another possible launch client, however they have just signed a letter of intent.
Chairman Dan Wolf is intrigued by the potential for cost savings in fuel and maintenance, but he is hesitant to commit until he knows that Eviation can deliver on key elements of that promise.
Such as a battery pack with long service life and affordable replacement costs, and that the airline can find ways to fly Alice more than its current planes in order to use the resulting operating savings to offset the cost of Alice.
After that, there’s the issue of how far you want to go. The company Eviation claims that the necessary batteries to allow it to fly 250 kilometers are now commercially accessible. Battery expert and Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. candidate Shashank Sripad thinks there may be such technologies on the horizon, but it’s far from guaranteed that any will prove to be aviation-grade in terms of durability, safety, or price by 2027, when Eviation wants to put the aircraft to market. (Sripad is one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in this year.)
Eviation anticipates that Alice will not be subject to airport noise curfews since the most powerful MagniX motor delivers the equivalent of 850 horsepower yet is quiet enough to avoid them.
GRACE OF EVIATION
Based on Sripad’s calculations, Alice will require cells with an energy density of between 340 and 400 watt-hours per kilogram to go 250 miles with a cushion.
Currently, 300 is the largest number mass-produced for automobiles.Chandler thinks he can sell more Alice since he’s making it seem nicer.
He’s paying close attention to every last detail, and he attributes this to his years as a women’s wear stylist in his twenties, when he was helping his family turn their department store in Hamilton, New Zealand, into a chain of boutiques, and his many hours spent on business jets as a global investor.
After selling them in 1986, Chandler and his brother Christopher had $10 million to invest, which they grew to $5 billion by the time they divorced in 2006.
Mandates and carbon prices from the government provide a more realistic cause for hope.
When railways are an option, France has outlawed short-haul flights, but aircraft with minimal emissions are exempt. There is a high probability that this will be followed by other EU member states.
Norway’s long-term goal is to completely replace domestic flights with electric aircraft by the year 2040.
Disagreements with Eviation’s original founders, who are frustrated by Chandler’s unwavering devotion to MagniX engines, disrupt the status quo. After sketching Alice for the first time at a pub in Vienna in 2014, CEO Omer Bar-Yohay was fired in February.
There are currently no alternatives to MagniX, but board member and serial IT entrepreneur Aviv Tzidon still seeks offers.
Maybe well-established jet engine manufacturers would step up to the plate, like Britain’s Rolls-Royce or France’s aerospace behemoth Safran, and provide more competitive pricing.
Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois Kiruba Haran says engines couldn’t take off without MagniX.
On the other hand, he notes that large corporations and universities are making headway on megawatt-scale motors, whereas the Magni650 produces only “moderate” power for its weight.
According to Chandler, MagniX has a substantial advantage. He says GE and Pratt & Whitney are both interested in buying the business from him (both companies declined to comment).
The engine giants may have more pockets, but they are also hampered by the success of their earlier products.
As with Tesla, Chandler is certain that MagniX’s laser-like concentration on electrification will keep it in the lead.
It’s like climbing Everest, he adds. “And what do you know? Someone from New Zealand was the first to arrive.
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