Some of us are just getting used to the idea of electric cars. But electric airplanes? Yes. And possibly manufactured and marketed in Prescott.
It might happen if two visionary entrepreneurs from Kadima Zoran, Israel can find support in the greater Prescott area, Arizona and elsewhere.
Omer Bar-Yohay and Aviv Taidon, Israeli founders of Eviation Aircraft met with the mayor, several Prescott City Council members and representatives from both the city and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Their objective was to unveil plans for the manufacture of an all-electric commuter airplane designed to fly up to 600 miles at a cost substantially less than a commercial airliner – or even a land-based bus.
Bar-Yohay, CEO and co-founder, told a group a during a morning meeting at ERAU that he and his company in Israel had already built a prototype electric light aircraft, propelled by three electric-motor driven engines: one main propeller mounted on the tail and two smaller propellers at each wingtip.
That plane was earlier unveiled at a Paris Air Show in June.
Called the “Alice Commuter,” the estimated cost for one of the aircraft is somewhere around $2.6 to $3 million. The estimated initial cost to start the manufacturing plant – around $20 million.
Bar-Yohay said his preliminary evaluation of Prescott as a site for manufacturing was particularly appealing because of the availability of space at and near the Prescott Municipal Airport, clean air, year-round moderate climate and potential for developing a relationship with ERAU, the nation’s leading aerospace and aeronautical university.
Bar-Yohay described what he thought were advantages of an electric-engine aircraft.
“Those electric engines have enough power to let us fly that plane about 600 miles at 250 miles per hour,” Bar-Yohay explained. He continued that Eviation’s aeronautical engineers determined that a 980 KWh lithium-ion battery pack would provide enough electricity to keep propellers spinning. He also noted that propeller design was totally different from those used on conventional airplanes.
The silhouette of the aircraft looks similar to many other contemporary small passenger planes such as the Beechcraft King Air. About 40 feet long, it has a 44-foot wingspan and a distinctive V-shape twin tail design. The fuselage is designed to carry up to nine passengers and two crewmembers.
Bar-Yohay said the 10 members of his company had created a technologically sophisticated airplane that met all safety regulations, including those of the Federal Aviation Authority.
He emphasized that “fuel” costs for operating an electric aircraft would be significantly below that of providing high octane aircraft fuel for a propeller-driven plane or jet fuel for a jet aircraft.
“Compare the cost of 200 kWh hours of electricity to that of commercial aircraft fuel, and it’s absurd,” he said.
Aviv Tridon, Eviation chairman, added to Bar-Yohay’s comments about the low cost of flying an electric airplane. “The rigorous FAA and other aircraft inspection requirements are that internal combustion engines and jet engines must be inspected. They are literally torn apart and rebuilt or replaced regularly after so many hours in the air. That is quite expensive and takes a lot of time.”
He continued, “That’s simply not the case with electric engines. We know they can run for up to 100,000 hours with no problems whatsoever. In short, maintenance costs are minimal when compared to other aircraft. For example, no oil changes.”
Bar-Yohay added, “And zero emissions.”
He then said that Alice Commuter would be perfect for short-range commutes, for example from San Diego to Los Angeles, or Seoul to Beijing. “Or Prescott to Phoenix,” he added. A big advantage of having a smaller electric-engine commuter plane would be that it provides an economic alterative to large commercial aircraft.
Following private discussions with several Quad Cities officials about the possibility of locating the manufacturing plant in the area, Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg said, “I attended a presentation by this Israeli aircraft company. It is looking for a U.S. hub at which to manufacture its electric engine aircraft. With ERAU as a partner, we can offer this company a unique opportunity to establish a facility here at the Prescott Airport with light clean manufacturing. This will greatly benefit Prescott, ERAU and Eviation.”
ERAU Chancellor Frank Ayers said that the university is happy to partner with the greater Prescott community in any effort to bring new high tech businesses to the area.
City of Prescott Economic Development consultant Jim Robb commented that attracting such a manufacturing company to the Prescott area would create new high-paying jobs while at the same time helping to solve what is becoming a huge transportation issue – high cost of commercial air travel.
The reason Eviation executives became aware of the Prescott connection was because of local entrepreneur Henry Gellerman. The founder of Arizona Hop (which Gellerman hopes will become a charter “on demand” air service operating out of Prescott) had been in contact with Eviation. He learned they would be in Las Vegas in October. He arranged for them to visit the Prescott area before they returned to Israel. QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN
Photo by Ray Newton