Imagine: Planes fill the skies much like Fords fill the streets. A six-hour drive has become a quick 45-minute flight, and you, of course, choose the latter. Your plane barely makes a sound as it takes off.
It is now an asset to live near an airport, and all of the United States’ airstrips are being used. Your life is like the Jetsons.
Though this may sound like a sci-fi universe, it could be only a decade away, according to Omer Bar-Yohay. The Eviation CEO has been working to make that reality possible for a while now; his electric nine-passenger commuter plane, the Alice, will debut in Paris this June.
To Bar-Yohay, electric aviation is an inevitability, and the question is not “if,” but “how soon.”
“These are the good old days. We’re living them right now,” he said. “This is what people felt in the jet age when it started in the 50s, and this is the electric age.”
To prepare for the aircraft revolution, Eviation has teamed up with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, to work with fourth-year students on “performance analysis, validation and testing as well as future electric propulsion and airframe design concepts,” according to a press release. The new program — slated to begin this spring — is a “win-win,” said Embry-Riddle chancellor Dr. Frank Ayers.
“We’re teaching them about their future. And when we’re working with a company like Eviation, we’re talking about the future,” Ayers told Ladders.
Indeed, Bar-Yohay heralds the electrical revolution to come as a “paradigm shift.” Since the aviation industry emerged during the last century, he said, there has been major growth and change in how we live our lives, from waging war to taking a vacation. In many of those practices, flight is involved.
And yet, Bar-Yohay said, the aviation industry has gone through a period of stagnation. “The planes look like a tube with a wheel stuck to the bottom of them. That’s about it,” he said.
In contrast, Eviation’s the Alice is sleek and tailored, with attractive oval windows and a thin facade. But that’s not what makes it especially innovative. Its pioneering spirit comes from staggeringly low operating costs and environmental sustainability.
Bar-Yohay said direct operating costs for Alice will fall around $200 an hour. That’s hundreds if not thousands less than similar models that don’t rely on electric energy. And by getting rid of fuel altogether, Eviation’s electric aircraft are not only reducing noise pollution but are generally friendlier for the environment.
Because civilian aircraft and aircraft engines account for $99 billion of U.S. exports, a radical change in plane technology could have a major impact on the American workforce. Bar-Yohay said basic skill sets still lie in fields that already exist: Computer science, electrical engineering, systemic solutions, automation, autonomy, etc.
But the new, more efficient aircraft will also demand changes in industries related to air travel. How will people book a ticket on a nine-passenger plane? How will they connect with other travelers going to similar locales? The new technology will mandate entirely new structures by which people use transportation so that there’s an affordable Uber or Lyft for regional air.
For now, Bar-Yohay and Ayers are focusing on training the engineers of tomorrow so they’re prepared for the electric age. And Ayers, who is a pilot, seems excited by the prospect.
“I can’t wait to go fly this thing,” he said.