Pipistrel Velis Electro: Why electric planes are taking off in flight schools

Air travel has been slow to embrace clean energy, but if the next generation of aviators are waiting for commercial airlines to move away from fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean they can’t train with emissions. reduced carbon.

The Velis Electro, the world’s only electric aircraft fully certified in the EU and UK, is becoming a greener option for trainee pilots.
Manufactured in Slovenia by Pipistrel, the Velis Electro is a two-seater light aircraft intended for flight schools. The single-engine aircraft can fly up to 12,000 feet and has a top speed of 98 knots (113 mph). It has a flight time of around 50 minutes (plus reserve) per charge, with two batteries that take up to two hours to fully charge.

Tine Tomažič, Chief Technology Officer at Pipistrel Slovenia, says that while the Velis Electro offers a range of advantages over regular aircraft, a key appeal is that many of the fundamentals remain the same.

“You can literally take this plane home and use it from day one for anything you’ve used before with other non-electric planes,” he told CNN Business.

As well as producing no carbon emissions into the air, the plane is quiet – about 60 decibels, according to Pipistrel, which is about equal to normal conversation. Tomažič says that as a result, he can fly at much smaller airfields – which are often closer to built-up areas and closer to potential pilots – without annoying nearby residents.

Buy in a greener future

Since its launch in 2020, Pipistrel says it has sold around 100 electric models planes, priced at €175,000 ($175,500).

With soaring gasoline prices and increased scrutiny of the carbon footprint of air travel, there is growing interest in this segment. The Green Flight Academy in northern Sweden has three Velis Electros as part of its private and commercial pilot license training programs, which use sustainably powered aircraft whenever possible.

About 30% of the flight hours required for a commercial pilot license take place in the electric aircraft, Johan Norberg, flight training manager at the academy, told CNN.

There’s a “huge difference” in the cost of operational power, he says, estimating that a 40-minute flight in the Velis Electro uses $2-3 in renewable electricity, compared to about $45 in gasoline. of aviation for the same flight in a traditional single-engine aircraft. training aircraft, such as a Cessna 172, using a Lycoming O-360 engine.

Pipistrel says the batteries should be replaced after about 2,000 flight hours (an indicator on the batteries shows exactly when) and the price for a new pair is around $20,000.

Even with the cost of replacing the batteries, Norberg believes the electric plane is cheaper to run than the academy’s diesel counterpart, although he adds that “long-term operational costs still need to be verified”. .

A potential $40 billion industry

Training for a private pilot license costs €14,500 ($14,500) at Green Flight Academy, about the same as flight schools that use conventional aircraft. “When we can do more of the training in electric aircraft, there will be a significant cost reduction for the entire training program,” says Norberg.

In addition to shorter flights, qualifying for a private license requires pilots to undertake two-hour flights, says Norberg, which are not currently possible in the Velis Electro. But developing the next generation of electric planes with longer flight times could mean that within a few years pilots could be able to train entirely without burning fossil fuel.

Pipistrel was acquired this year by the American conglomerate Textron (owner of the Cessna and Lycoming brands), and is now part of Textron eAviation. The global market for electric planes is expected to quadruple by 2030, according to market research firm Precedence Research, which estimates the value could reach nearly $40 billion by the end of the decade.

The Velis Electro is currently awaiting approval for commercial use in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration, but is already being flown privately.

While trainee pilots now have the opportunity to fly in an environmentally friendly way, large planes have yet to be weaned off fossil fuels, and zero-carbon long-haul and cargo flights are far from over. But Tomažič hopes that won’t always be the case.

“What (the) Velis Electro is already doing today is training the generation of pilots who will fly these great green aviation products of the future,” he says.

“Not only does this represent a shift in the technology applied to training, but it definitely changes the mindset of future pilots who will inevitably want to fly cleaner, electrified aircraft as part of their flying careers.”

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