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Ep 24 – Electric Airplanes And New Oceanic Procedures

Regs, Podcast | October 22, 2020


Welcome to the podcast. Today I’m going to talk electric planes and also discuss new global oceanic contingency procedures coming November 5, 2020.

Electric Planes

There are releases almost weekly about new electric airplanes.

Budget airline EasyJet has partnered with a new company called Wright Electric to design and develop a prototype aircraft that can carry 180 passengers and fly 300 miles, 2030 is the goal to fly the aircraft.

Airbus also released details of three hydrogen fueled aircraft calling the program ZEROe saying they could enter service by the year 2035. That’s a long way off, but recently an electric Cessna Caravan flew at the Moses Lake airport in the state of Washington.

Benefits of Electric Planes

Proponents of electric airplanes say they are quieter, safer, and cheaper to run compared to fossil fuel planes. The half-hour Moses Lake eCaravan flight used just $6 worth of electricity – instead of $300 of jet fuel. People on the ground said the gasoline engine of the smaller chase plane was twice as loud.

Electric motors are lighter than fossil fuel engines, they don’t need as much maintenance and last much longer before they need to be overhauled. In some cases, their aerodynamics are better compared to the same aircraft with a gasoline or jet fuel power plant. And, as long as the electricity is generated cleanly, electric aircraft create no atmospheric carbon emissions during the flight. This is what is said by proponents of the technology.

The eCaravan that flew the test flight has a 750-horsepower electric motor called the MagniX, supplied with energy by more than 2,000 pounds of lithium-ion batteries.

MagniX aircraft company says they are on track to achieve FAA certification for the battery-powered propulsion systems by late 2021, putting an aircraft into commercial service by the end of 2022. At the same time, MagniX is continuing to work with its affiliate company Eviation Aircraft to provide the electric motors for the new Alice fixed-wing aircraft.

The Grand Caravan powered by the Magni500 flight tested to 8,000 feet, making it the first electric powered aircraft to do so.

This has allowed engineers to evaluate how the electrical components perform in an unpressurized environment.

Planes What are some of the factors to consider with battery systems?

  • Cold temperature or a rapid change in temperature.
  • Climb or descent rate.
  • Power settings in different phases of flight.

There is much to test and consider.

With today’s technology, the key drawback of battery-powered electric aircraft is their limited range, which depends on the batteries that they can carry.

Some designers are using hydrogen fuel cells instead. More about hydrogen in a minute. Today’s batteries are at least 30 times heavier than an energy-equivalent volume of kerosene or fuel, so electric aircraft have much shorter range. Also, the battery weight does not reduce as the flight happens as is the case with the burning of fuel.

The eCaravan flown at Moses Lake has a range of about 100 miles. But a turboprop Cessna Caravan with the same weight of kerosene can fly about 1,500 miles.

However, better batteries are on the way. In the AIN article I reference in the show notes, materials scientists at the University of California in San Diego are part of the Battery 500 Consortium working on new battery designs. From their website, Battery500 is a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory-led and the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored Consortium with the goal of developing lithium-metal batteries that have almost triple the specific energy found in today’s batteries that power electric vehicles.

A battery’s specific energy is the amount energy packed into a battery based on its weight.

Obviously, weight is a big deal in car and aircraft batteries.

The Consortium aims to build a battery pack with a specific energy of 500 Watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg), compared to the approximate 200 Wh/kg in today’s typical electric vehicles. Commercial lithium-ion batteries can store about 250 Wh/kg, but new designs could double that in a few years.

Another issue is the supply chain. Mass production of these types of batteries does not exist today. Companies will have to take on the job, which I have no doubt will happen, but tooling up factories takes time and money.

Not to be out done, the car industry says “million-mile” batteries are not far off due to new innovations from Tesla and General Motors.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Fuel cells use chemical reactions between stored hydrogen in the aircraft and oxygen from the air to create electricity and pure water. And, because hydrogen can also be made cleanly from electricity and water, hydrogen fuel cells can be an effective alternative to batteries for storing electricity.

Batteries can be cheaper, but hydrogen fuel cells can be made smaller and lighter than existing batteries— critical for keeping the weight of electric aircraft down.

Engineers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, have said that hydrogen fuel cells could provide greater flying power than batteries alone, but they are still not as powerful as regular aircraft engines running on fossil fuels.

Hydrogen fuel is also flammable and must be handled carefully.

Another factor is the size of the hydrogen tank. How much hydrogen will an aircraft need to fly the designed mission? There are still some unknowns with hydrogen fuel cells, but aircraft powered in this way have already taken flight.

ZeroAvia Demonstrates Flight of Hydrogen-powered Passenger Aircraft

On September 28, in Britain, a company called ZeroAvia flew a six seated Piper Malibu looking aircraft—using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity to drive the propellor. The test flight was one circuit lasting just a few minutes.

ZeroAvia is part of a program which is backed by the U.K. government, which aims to “decarbonise small passenger propeller-driven aircraft by demonstrating new powertrain technology.” Those are their words. The next step of the project will see ZeroAvia fly between 250 and 300 nautical miles using hydrogen-fuel cells. It’s hoped this trip will happen before the end of 2020.

Technology is still advancing as we deal with the aviation slowdown, which is great to see.

Many aircraft types have been used as test beds for electric propulsion, including Cessna Caravan, DHC-2 Beaver and more.

Aircraft Harbour Air and magniX Flew the World’s First Commercial Electric Airplane

In December 2019, with magniX’s partner, Harbour Air in Vancouver, British Colombia, flew a Beaver that is completely electric. The Canadian regional airline is aiming to electrify its entire fleet eventually.

With the so-called eBeaver, magniX has replaced the aircraft’s original radial piston engine with the added benefit of improving the aerodynamic profile of the nose section of the fuselage. The company says the resulting improvement in lift-to-drag ratio will deliver a 20 percent improvement in speed and with less power output.

According to the AIN article, magniX is in discussions with several Caravan operators in the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia over which will commit to being the launch operator for the eCaravan. Harbour Air is already its partner for the eBeaver.

So, It Sounds like the magniX Power Plant is Best Suited for Short Mission Profiles:

The company says that around half of all air transport movements are between 50 and 500 miles and that electric aircraft are best suited for this range and up to 1,000 miles.

What About Electric VTOL and Urban Air Mobility?

E-Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) and the urban mobility concept could provide an arena for electric propulsion, but this industry is very new and requires much time and energy to become mainstream, accepted, and approved. Certification alone is a big step. Existing airplanes flying existing routes is probably a better place to start to prove to people that electric airplanes are safe and efficient.

Has COVID-19 Changed The Battery-powered Aircraft Market?

Where I work, the short-haul flights have come back first, which is good news for electric aircraft as they seem to cater more to the stage lengths of less than 1,000 miles.

The COVID-19 crisis may be prompting a resurgence in demand for regional services to smaller and more local airports as people try to travel in their own countries and closer to home.

What about business aviation?

Flights of longer than 1,000 miles will require futuristic battery requirements and the technology is not there, according to industry analysts. Hydrogen fuel could be the answer, but we’ll have to wait and see. If batteries are improving by 50% capacity annually, then we could get there sooner than we first thought.

From a pilot standpoint, I’m interested to know what can fail in a battery-powered or hydrogen fuel cell aircraft. I’ve read hydrogen is flammable but how much more than jet fuel, if at all. What about the electric motors? Are there components within that could be more susceptible to failure in an aviation environment of changing temperature and pressure? What about heating and cooling the cabin? With no bleed air, the cabin temperature will have to be controlled somehow. I know with electric cars running the heater can dramatically reduce the car’s range. As testing continues, I hope more of this information will be released.

In the News

In The News is a segment of the podcast where I talk about other happenings in aviation. There’s a big change happening November 5, 2020 that affects all global oceanic traffic. For the past few years, there have been two oceanic contingency procedures that have co-existed. This is the procedure to follow if you must deviate from your clearance in oceanic airspace and you cannot get a revised clearance.

The new procedure was put in place for the North Atlantic, and its tighter spacing and the old procedure currently remains for everywhere else in the world. WATRS was also included at the last minute for the new contingency procedure as well. Oceanic Control boundaries became very important as you could have to employ one of two different contingency procedures on the same flight based on which OCA you were flying in at the time of the occurrence. As of today until November 5th, 2020, the OCA in which you are flying determines whether you offset 5 or 15 miles from the cleared track as does the angle of the initial turn which could be 30 or 45 degrees. This is for non-weather deviations.

However, on November 5, 2020, all oceanic contingency procedures will become the same worldwide, which is great. The FAA has posted this on its International Notice page in response to ICAO’s announcement. ICAO will release the new procedures in the PANS-ATM Doc 4444.

General Contingency Procedures

If a clearance cannot be obtained, the following contingency procedures should be employed globally.

Leave the assigned route or track by turning a minimum of 30 degrees right or left in order to acquire a same direction track or course offset by 5 NM. If possible, maintain the assigned flight level until established on the 5 NM parallel. If unable, minimize the rate of descent as much as possible. The direction of the initial turn should be determined by the position of the aircraft relative to:

  • The flight levels allocated to the organized route or track system.
  • The direction to an alternate airport.
  • Terrain clearance.
  • Any strategic lateral offset or SLOP implemented by other aircraft in the area.

Maintain a watch for conflicting traffic both visually and by reference to ACAS. Leave ACAS in RA mode at all times unless aircraft operating limitations dictate otherwise.

Turn on all exterior lights commensurate with any operating limitations.

Keep the transponder on at all times and, when able, squawk 7700 as appropriate.

Use whatever means is appropriate (i.e., voice, CPDLC, SATCOM) to communicate during the contingency procedure.

If voice communication is used, the distress signal (MAYDAY) or urgency signal (PAN PAN) spoken three times shall be used.

Establish communications with and alert nearby aircraft by broadcasting at suitable intervals on 121.5 MHz or, as a backup, on the inter-pilot air-to-air frequency 123.45 MHz. Broadcast the following:

  • Aircraft identification.
  • The nature of the distress condition.
  • Intentions.
  • Position (including the ATS route designator or track code, as appropriate).
  • Flight level.

Obtain a clearance as soon as possible.

ICAO used to say that descent below FL 290 is considered particularly applicable to operations where there is a predominant traffic flow or parallel track system where the aircraft’s diversion path will likely cross adjacent tracks or routes. This is not mentioned in the FAAs alert but is still good practice. A descent below FL 290 can decrease the likelihood of conflict with other aircraft, ACAS RA events, and delays in obtaining a revised ATC clearance.

Note that an Altimetry System Error may lead to less than actual 500 ft vertical separation when the procedure is applied.

If the crew has completed the 5 NM offset and still has no clearance, the following actions are to be taken:

  • If you need to descend, then descend below FL 290, and then establish a 500 ft vertical offset from the flight levels normally used and proceed as required by the operational situation.
  • If you are not descending, then establish a 500 ft vertical offset or 1000 ft vertical offset if above FL 410 from the flight levels normally used and proceed as required by the operational situation. If an ATC clearance has been obtained, proceed in accordance with the clearance.

More Good News

The weather deviation contingency procedure is also now a single global procedure which was the procedure being used in the NAT.

If a revised ATC clearance cannot be obtained and a weather deviation is required, then proceed as follows:

  • If possible, deviate away from an organized track or route system.
  • Establish communications with and alert nearby aircraft by broadcasting on 121.5 or 123.45.
  • Watch for conflicting traffic both visually and by reference to ACAS.
  • Turn on all exterior lights.
  • For deviations of less than 5.0 NM from the originally cleared track, remain at the level assigned by ATC.
  • For deviations greater than or equal to 5 NM from the originally cleared route, when the aircraft is approximately 5 NM from track, initiate a level change in accordance with Table 15-1 of the bulletin. A useful memory hook is the phrase “climb to the equator” for these altitude changes. For example, if you are flying eastbound in the northern hemisphere and you deviate to the right which is towards the equator, you would climb 300’. If you deviated to the left, it would be a descent of 300’. This information comes directly from current topics RNP 4, RNP 10 and NAT HLA MNPS.

Watch for these new documents released by ICAO, the FAA, Transport Canada and EASA and of course online training will be updated by November 5, 2020.

That’s it for this edition of the Business Aviation Training(Re)port. Have a great day!


AIN. MagniX Sees Regional Operators as Electric Aviation Pioneers.

CNBC. Hydrogen-powered passenger plane completes maiden flight in ‘world first.’

NBC News. The largest electric plane yet completed its first flight — but it’s the batteries that matter.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Battery500.

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