Flying green, Ampaire tests first hybrid-electric regional jet

Ampaire’s nine-seat regional jet, the Eco Caravan, with a fully integrated hybrid electric propulsion system, made its maiden flight today. Ampaire expects the model to be the first electric regional aircraft to enter commercial service (certification in 2024) and the first in a series of large hybrid electric aircraft from Ampaire that will lead the sustainable transformation of aerospace.

Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker said: “Aviation is the hardest sector to decarbonise. While all-electric aircraft have limited range due to the weight and energy capacity of the latest generation batteries, hybrid electric aircraft can preserve the range of today’s aircraft range and practicality. That’s why we’re focusing on hybrid electric propulsion for a range of increasingly capable regional aircraft. It’s a way for the aviation industry to decarbonise faster and benefit from lower operating costs.”

Today’s landmark achievement adds momentum to a program that has attracted numerous key clients and project participants in recent months. In October, Ampaire announced a partnership with Air France-KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) for a range of global maintenance services and support activities. Last month, Ampaire also received an order for up to 50 Eco Caravans from MONTE, a financier for sustainable regional aviation technology. “Partnerships of this type will ensure that Ampaire’s wide range of customers around the world have compelling financing and leasing support, as well as world-class maintenance/repair/overhaul support,” said Noertker.

First flight was “smooth and quiet”

The Eco Caravan upgrades the standard Cessna Grand Caravan with Ampaire’s compression ignition and electric motor integrated propulsion systems. A battery pack in the fuselage fairing reserves the aircraft’s ability to carry passengers and cargo.

The first flight lasted 33 minutes for an initial check of the propulsion system. At 7:49 a.m. PST, test pilot Elliot Seguin took off from Camarillo Airport, north of Los Angeles, in the Eco Caravan. The Eco Caravan climbs to an altitude of 3,500 feet at full power, driven by a combination of compression ignition and electric motors. Seguin then brought the throttle back to the cruise setting, reducing the load on both power sources. He spent about 20 minutes testing various power settings, checking temperatures and other readings before landing on lower power and finally landing at Camarillo. “The Eco Caravan propulsion system was operating as expected. The flight was smooth and quiet. All temperature and power output readings were normal,” Seguin said.

Achieving Net Zero Emissions with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70%. Emissions are virtually zero when using sustainable aviation fuel. Operating costs are reduced by 25% to 40%, depending on route structure. The cost per available seat mile approaches the cost of driving.

The hybrid electric aircraft retains the range/payload capability of the Grand Caravan and actually has better range than the Grand Caravan (with 8 passengers). The maximum cruising range exceeds 1000 miles. The Eco Caravan’s range and payload capacity stand in stark contrast to proposed all-electric, hydrogen-electric or even other hybrid-electric designs.

The Eco Caravan can recharge its batteries in flight or at a charging station on the ground. With charging infrastructure constrained over the years, the ability to operate independently of ground charging stations is critical to maintaining the full functionality of the Eco Caravan.

This is the first new generation of sustainable electric aircraft

The propulsion technology on board the Eco Caravan is scalable to large regional jets and eventually to single-aisle airliners. Ampaire plans to rapidly introduce a more powerful propulsion system for larger aircraft, using a building block approach that could significantly improve the sustainability of aviation operations.

“We’re very proud of the Eco Caravan, but as energy storage continues to evolve, we see this as the first step towards a large-scale hybrid-electric propulsion system and ultimately a zero-emissions system,” said Noertker.

First to market

Ampaire is working with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certify the Eco Caravan under a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) in 2024. Ampaire’s unique approach to certification eliminates the need for a full aircraft certification process, which is time-consuming and expensive. The Grand Caravan is FAA certified. Ampaire will certify its flight against the new propulsion system.

“Launching hybrid-electric aviation technology is not an easy task, but by upgrading an aircraft that has already been certified, we are making it easier,” said Noertker. Learning from operating experience with this new propulsion system. We will work with these airlines to develop follow-on models to meet their network requirements.”

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