An Electric Aircraft Successfully Completed a 1,403-Mile Journey, but Is It Worth It?

The shift to electrification is overtaking the entire transportation industry. Automakers are all-in on electric vehicles but they are not the only ones. Recently making headlines was an electric plane, the Alia, that made a trip halfway across the country.

Why is the transportation industry moving toward electrification?

A charging port for an electric airplane.
Electric airplane | Getty Images

While consumers are now quite familiar with the shift toward electric cars and trucks, most aren’t familiar with efforts to transform other modes of transportation. However, doing so is best for many manufacturers for several reasons.

As consumer preferences have shifted to eco-conscious vehicles, manufacturers have followed suit. Consumers, businesses, and governments’ attention to climate change have spurred new proposed and enacted regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even the threat of new regulations has prompted many industries to self-regulate. By doing so, they can often mitigate how strict regulations are eventually enacted.

Beyond shifting consumer preferences and awareness of climate change, there’s been a growing shift among business leaders to drive social good. This shift isn’t limited to social entrepreneurs. Indeed, many business leaders have redrafted their strategic business goals to incorporate sustainability. And while mainstream publications have covered the automotive shift quite a bit, other transportation manufacturers are moving in this direction too.

Are electric planes the next frontier of electrification?

According to Popular Science, one company, Beta Technologies, is betting that electric planes are indeed the next frontier in electrification. Their new electric plane, the Alia, recently took its maiden test flight, taking off from Plattsburgh International Airport in eastern New York. It began on Monday, May 23rd, and after seven strategic stops, it finally landed on Monday, May 30th, in Bentonville, Arkansas, a trip of 1,403 miles.

On a conventional flight, such a trip should take approximately nine to 10 hours, not eight full days. However, this flight was a test flight in real weather conditions and strategically planned. While most of the electric aviation field is focused on short trip flights so that electric aircraft could be used like Ubers, Beta Technologies is investing in the idea that electric aircrafts can be used for longer flights, specifically for cargo and package delivery.

Moreover, this flight’s multiple stops were pre-planned. The Alia is a proof of concept that short-term flights lasting around 150 minutes in length are viable for electric aircraft. The Alia’s flights ranged from approximately 159 to 211 minutes. Alia’s eight-day trip over six states not included flights but also plenty of testing and assessment in between flights as well. The test would likely not have lasted as long if not for a spate of bad weather from May 24th to the 28th that sidelined the plane.

What does an electric aircraft look like?

Beta Technologies maintains that the test flight showed the Alia does what they intend. And it could well be a precursor to similar short flights in electric aircraft. In fact, one could be flying overhead in the not-too-distant future. If so, you may be wondering how the Alia differs from the conventional planes you’re used to.

The Alia operates off a single propeller and two electric motors. The aircraft itself takes off like a conventional plane. However, Beta is working on a version that will take off vertically rather than with a diagonal ascent with its AVA model.

It is powered by charging stations, just as with an electric car. But it can also be charged with a mobile generator. During the flight, Beta’s testers did do that. However, as the crux of electric aircraft is zero emissions, they do not plan to do so when these planes eventually become fit for commercial use.

Even though an eight-day trip may not sound impressive, the Alia did precisely what its designers intended. In fact, these series of flights surpassed BETA’s current flight test patterns of one to two flights a day to 3 flights in one day. In a couple of years, you may find yourself seeing the familiar blue of Amazon or brown of UPS trucks in the skies, as well as on the roads.

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