CHOKEPOINTS

Will Washington be ready for electric airplanes by 2027?

Oct 6, 2022, 5:05 AM | Updated: 2:33 pm
Electric Plane...
Eviation's "Alice", the world's first all-electric commuter airplane, takes off for its first flight at 7:10 am on September 27, 2022 in Moses Lake, Washington. Piloted by Eviation's Chief Test Pilot Steve Crane, the flight lasted 8 minutes taking the aircraft to an altitude of 3500 ft. (Photo by Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images)

When the electric passenger airplane ‘Alice’ completed its first test flight in Moses Lake last week, it started a fast-moving clock for small airports around the world to be ready when service begins.

Will those airports be ready?

Alice’s nine-minute, three-second flight put the world on notice. Electric airplanes are not just an idea, they are a reality. If you want in on this opportunity you had better be ready.

Eviation CEO Gregory Davis envisions the start of paid passenger service in his nine-seat electric airplane by 2027. That’s just four and a half years away. I asked him during our conversation last week what it will take for airports to be ready.

“The charging network is something that definitely needs support beyond us,” he said. “We need the government. We need airports. We need people who operate the airports themselves and the services at those airports to invest in this.”

Prototype electric airplane takes first flight

Davis believes a charging network at small airports will be ready for when passenger service arrives.

Where is Washington in its preparations for a fleet of electric passenger and freight planes?

The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) oversees about 133 public use airports in the state. About half of them are capable of having a plane like Alice take off and land at them.

The state’s director of aviation David Fleckensten said his agency has been working on the electrification of those airports since 2018. He’s been pushing airport owners to consider upgrading their facilities, deciding where they can put charging stations and what they can do to prepare.

“Say you’re tearing up pavement on the airport itself, some (airports) have gone to the extent where they are sticking conduit in the ground so they can have it there, and it’s ready for when electrification comes to fruition,” said Fleckensten.

The state has already completed a feasibility study on electric aircraft and how small airports can be ready. Fleckenstein believes Washington will be ready to go.

“We’re trying to be leaders in it,” Fleckenstein said. “There are a lot of states on the bandwagon as well, and we’re trying to learn from each other.”

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The study recommends that airports be prepared for electric flight by 2030, which is a few years after Eviation’s goal of flying by 2027. Some airports could come online before that.

Fleckenstein believes 5-8 years will be enough time.

“We’re still talking some years down the road before we see aircraft flying in numbers that are meaningful, but we want to be ready for it,” he said. “The ability to be ready for it is going to be years in the making.”

The other big question about all of this is demand: Will people use this expanding fleet of electric airplanes for short hops that they now make by car?

Fleckensten believes they will. The state’s airports are underused. The big airlines have greatly cut back on their regional service. There is an opportunity here. “It’s an opportunity to bring some of that back,” he said.

Arlington to Spokane. Moses Lake to Vancouver. Ellensburg to Everett.

The state said it will be ready. Eviation said it will be ready.

Will you be ready?

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Will Washington be ready for electric airplanes by 2027?