The middle-mile branch of major logistics company DHL, DHL Express, has ordered up 12 all-electric cargo planes from pioneering manufacturer Eviation. The Alice is set to be a nine-seater commuter plane but also has the capability to carry 2,600 lbs of cargo over 440 NM. DHL Express expects delivery in 2024.
DHL bets on electric
Major logistics company DHL has entered into the world of electric cargo planes with an order for 12 fully electric aircraft. The Express arm of the company ordered the planes from Eviation, committing to its ‘Alice’ aircraft for future regional flights.
DHL says that the order will allow it to set up an all-electric Express network and to take a step into a more sustainable future. Eviation is targeting deliveries to the airline by 2024. Speaking about the order, John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express, commented,
“We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics. Therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint. On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions.
“Founded in 1969, DHL Express has been known as a pioneer in the aviation industry for decades. We have found the perfect partner with Eviation as they share our purpose, and together we will take off into a new era of sustainable aviation.”
Although developed as a commuter passenger aircraft, Alice has some impressive statistics that make it ideal for the cargo market. The plane can carry up to 2,600 lbs (1,200 kg) to a range of 440 NM (815 km). Charging is fast, with 30 minutes or less of charge required per flight hour, enabling high utilization of this all-electric plane.
Also attractive are the Alice’s single-pilot operations and its all-electric motors which have fewer moving parts than conventional engines, therefore requiring less maintenance. The aircraft is ideal for the ‘middle mile’ logistics operation, where priority packages are shuttled from major hubs to smaller locations before being loaded onto vans for the final delivery.
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First flights this year
Simple Flying first met Alice at the Paris Air Show in 2019. At the time, the aircraft was not much more than a prototype, a fully fitted out machine with some unusual characteristics but yet to really take off. While the cabin mock-up highlighted the comfortable seats and large windows available for passengers, there was still a great deal of red tape to get through before Alice could fly.
However, with the delivery of its first magniX electric propulsion unit (EPU) in May this year, the plane hopes to take flight before 2021 is over. The company reached firm design configuration, a key milestone, in July, although it said that this was just a formality, with parts for the plane already delivered by suppliers.
The configuration hasn’t changed much from the prototype that was displayed in Paris. The original plan was for three 350 kW motors driving propellers on the wingtips and tail. Now, it will have just two 650 kW motors driving two propellors mounted beneath the tail. The V-shaped tail has evolved into a T-tail, and the landing gear is not a tricycle configuration. This will let Alice sit parallel to the apron rather than nose-up, as was the case with the prototype.
Although it’s small, the commitment from DHL bolstered by ‘double digit’ orders from Massachusetts-based Cape Air shows the appeal of this all-electric plane. With flight testing planned for later this year, Alice is on track to push forward the green agenda in the coming years.