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Electric Planes? Don’t Look for Them in Peoria Anytime Soon

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
A Cape Air passenger plane, a Cessna 402 model, approaches Logan Airport in Boston, Thursday, May 24, 2018.

While car companies spend billions getting electric cars ready for the road, there’s another vehicle expected to go electric sometime in the future: the airplane.

But it could be awhile, said Gene Olson, director of airports for the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria.

Electric aircraft are under development—and in the news. United Airlines recently made the announcement that it plans to buy 200 “flying taxis” (read very small planes) from an electric aircraft startup.

Olson also noted that Cape Air, a regional carrier that provides service to 100 U.S. destinations (including some in Illinois), has ordered an electric model to use on some of its routes. “To my knowledge, the airplane they have ordered is not yet certified,” said Olson, referring to the Federal Aviation Authority’s certification process.

“Certification of a brand new aircraft takes years, and if the airplane uses new technology, the FAA can slow it down tremendously,” he said.

“I know Quincy (Illinois) currently has Cape Air service to Chicago and St. Louis. Cape Air is currently using Cessna 402 twin engine airplanes. It is these short-haul routes they plan to serve with electric airplanes,” said Olson.

Quincy qualifies as an Essential Air Service community, a category for small communities that allows them to receive subsidies from the U.S. Department of Transportation to maintain air service, he said.

“(Peoria) is too big to have EAS service so it is doubtful Cape Air would fly from PIA. I did work with Cape Air in Evansville on a joint project with the South Bend airport to connect both communities to Indianapolis. It’s a good company with nice people,” said Olson.

There’s also the matter of range anxiety, the same problem that carmakers have had to cope with. “Range is a problem with electric airplanes so far,” he said.

“The (electric) model that Cape Air is looking at has a range of 440 miles. That sounds like plenty but it is only enough for barely two trips between Chicago and Quincy,” said Olson, who also questioned if the battery recharging period would fit turnaround times presently used by airlines (usually 15 to 30 minutes).

Battery weight is another issue, he said. “For Cape Air’s airplane (a nine-passenger model), the weight of the batteries is approximately 60 percent of the takeoff weight. By way of contrast, the weight of engine and fuel for a Cessna 172, a single-engine plane for four passengers is only 19 percent,” said Olson.

“As the technology develops, you may see electric airplanes in the future, but I’m guessing it will be decades, not years,” he said.

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