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Ravn set to buy 50 electric planes when available

Updated: Jun. 24, 2021 at 7:40 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - People think about an electric car and don’t bat an eyelash. Talking about an electric plane may be different — especially in a rugged place so dependent on air travel as Alaska. Within the next five years, that’s the kind of reality Ravn Alaska is signing up for.

According to CEO Rob McKinney, the company has entered a letter of intent with California based company, Airflow, to purchase 50 electric airplanes once they’re available. Airflow Chief Technical Officer Peter Kalogiannis said they’re hoping for that to be in 2025.

The company is still designing the aircraft, McKinney clarified that they have not paid for the 50 electric planes at this time.

Right now, Kalogiannis said they are developing two electric aircraft called a Model 100 and a Model 200.

“Not the most creative names, but we’re working on that too,” Kalogiannis said.

Kalogiannis added a lot of creativity is going into the design itself. He said Airflow is looking at this concept of electric propulsion as the biggest revolution in aviation since the turbine engine.

McKinney said they should fly similarly to a combustion aircraft, but they look pretty different. Most notably, the number of propellers on the wings.

Kalogiannis explained the concept.

“We’ll have a system onboard, and it will have batteries,” he said. “And it will also have a version with a hybrid generator, much like a Prius or a hybrid car. Those will generate the power and will route that to an array of electric motors that we have spread across the wings.”

He said the current designs have anywhere from eight to twelve motors on the aircraft. Kalogiannis explained that because there are more propellers, they would be able to generate propulsion in a shorter space. So they would work well on shorter airstrips that are common in Alaska.

Kalogiannis said the planes should have about 500 miles worth the energy in the batteries per flight. McKinney said that would make them ideal for shorter voyages that aren’t financially feasible due to costs of operation.

“We can contemplate flying shorter stage links than we can right now because we won’t have the penalty of the cycles,” McKinney said.

The biggest deal here is saving money. It would be easy to think that the savings would come from not using fossil fuels, but McKinney said that would only be about 30% of it. The real money to be saved would be in maintenance.

McKinney explained that combustion engines and turbine motors have far more moving parts than these proposed electric motors. Every single time they turn on a plane they have in their fleet now, it becomes closer to needing repair and replacement - a cycle.

“To overhaul an engine on one of our airplanes currently is about $800,000. And that happens every two and a half to three years. So not having an overhaul cost to that extreme is really where those cost savings come in,” he said.

Kalogiannis explained further that the electric motor only has one moving part.

As far as safety goes, they said that is the top priority. McKinney said no one is getting inside one of these planes until the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s okay to do so.

The simplicity and the low number of moving parts in these proposed electric airplanes would actually contribute to safety Kalogiannis said.

“We’re actually much more what we call redundant in case of any issues,” he said about the high number of propellers. “We also have multiple battery packs that are independent of powering these motors.”

As far as how these will operate in Alaska, McKinney said he sees a future where no one will think twice about electric planes. Really the only concern he had about them in Alaska is how cold it gets here and the effect that will have on the batteries.

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