AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 87

they're life limited, so while an electric aircraft engine might have a TBO well beyond
that of a traditional aviation engine, the batteries likely will need to be replaced every
few years. Newer, denser battery technologies will undoubtedly enter at the higher
end of the price spectrum, but they will also
benefit from efficiencies in manufacturing,
safety, supply chain, packaging, distribution,
and more.
Electric aviation also will be able to draft
off of the tailwinds from increasing electric vehicle (EV) penetration. EV growth is
driving battery management sophistication,
charging infrastructure and methods of payment, investment in lightweight materials
like carbon fiber, and so forth. All of the benefits of traversing those learning curves will
accrue to electric aviation.
The other big challenge for electric aviation is charging infrastructure. Fossil/liquid
fuel-based aviation has a massive installed
infrastructure to ensure that fuel is available to a lot of airports; today, at least, there
is very little comparable charging infrastructure. The good news here is that this is not a
technology problem, or a distribution problem. There's nothing really to invent, and just
about every airport today that has fuel (and
many that don't) already has electricity. The
distribution of " fuel " is easier for electric aviation than for liquid fuels. 100LL, gasoline,
and Jet A all need distinct distribution pipelines, refineries, storage, and pumps.
EVs provide a great template for how to
do this, and the scale of the problem for aviation is significantly smaller-both in terms
of fleet size and in terms of the number of
charging stations needed. For example, the
United States currently has about 168,000
gas stations, but only about 4,000 airports
that have fuel services of one sort or another,
so the scale of the problem is significantly
smaller than that for EVs.
CHALLENGES, POSSIBILITIES

I certainly don't want to be a Pollyanna
about electric aviation, particularly for longrange or high-capacity aviation. There are
significant and very real technological and
economic challenges to overcome.
Technology development is never a
linear extrapolation of prior trends. New
technologies rarely are able to compete as

drop-in replacements for existing missions.
The first PCs were effectively toys; the first
cellphones didn't displace landlines; cars
didn't merely replace the horse and buggy.
What's fascinating about Bye, Pipistrel,
and Ampaire is that they are showing that
electric manned flight is possible. That's
actually the critical step-after that, it's a
matter of slow but steady iterative improvements that expand the set of achievable
missions. We're going to be surprised,
not just by how soon we'll be seeing electric aircraft in our skies, but perhaps even
more by their application to missions we
aren't even thinking about today. Fifteen
years ago nobody predicted the widespread
adoption of drones; today, they outnumber
manned aircraft by a good margin.
Electric aviation could open up smallcapacity medium-range point-to-point
markets that are simply impractical today
with traditional turbine aircraft, providing
congestion relief from major airports and a
better passenger experience (no TSA lines,
shorter travel between airport and home/
destination). And when you realize that the
main NIMBY opposition to new airports
or expanded operations at existing ones is
typically noise based, you can imagine the
potential advantages of electric aviation
playing out in unexpected ways.
We're now seeing a lot of discussion of
eVTOL short-hop autonomous concepts
and other applications that can be ideal for
electric aviation, none of which were in the
public consciousness 10 years ago. Indeed,
many of these simply aren't practical with
fossil/liquid fuel-based aviation and can provide new niches in which electric aviation
can grow, possibly complementing rather
than replacing traditional aviation engines.
Not all endeavors will work, of course.
Indeed, most will fail-it's a super hard
problem, after all. But that's a healthy and
an inherent part of the " creative destruction " of capitalism. At a high level, all of the
trends are pointing in the right direction to
enable this next generation of flight. AOPA
ERIC BERMAN is an instrument-rated com-

mercial pilot who lives in Woodinville,
Washington. He is a software developer
and an angel investor, and flies a Mooney.
EMAIL: myflightbook@gmail.com

aopa.org/pilot AOPA PILOT | 87

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AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover4
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