Magnix, one of several startups aiming to electrify air travel, announced on Monday that its Magni250 engine was selected to power Israeli airframer Eviation Aircraft’s Alice, a nine-passenger, all-electric aircraft. This follows Vancouver-based regional airliner Harbour Air's decision in February to retrofit its de Havilland Beaver seaplanes with the more powerful Magni500.
The announcements sum up MagniX’s two-prong strategy for establishing itself as an electric aircraft engine maker in an increasingly crowded field, by retrofitting traditional aircraft and powering new, purpose-built all-electric aircraft.
Retrofitting de Havilland DHC-2 Beavers for Harbour Air gets Magnix’s engines in the air quickly. That allows the company to point to real-world results, rather than projections. However, retrofitting cannot take full advantage of Magnix’s powerplants and “you’re basically sticking batteries wherever you can,” said Magnix CEO Roei Ganzarski.
The Magni500 in the Beavers will give them a range of about 100 miles. First flight is expected in November. The Magni500 puts out 560 kW (751 hp) at 1,900 rpm and weighs 265 pounds.
Eviation’s all-composite Alice is designed as an all-electric airplane that will make the most of the Magni250. The compact motor only weighs about 130 pounds, yet it delivers 280 kW (375 hp) at 1,900 rpm. The Alice’s three pusher props, each driven by a Magni250, are expected to give it a cruising speed of about 240 knots with a range of 565 nm. Thanks to its lightweight construction, the airplane will be able to carry three tons of batteries, with a capacity of 900 kWh.
Of course, developing a new airplane is a much slower process. FAA certification is slated for 2021, with Alice deliveries to customers starting the following year. Eviation is also offering the Alice with Siemens’s 260-kW SP260D motors.
The partnerships with Eviation and Harbour Air highlight the market segment that MagniX is focused on, what Ganzarski calls the “middle mile.” He explained his conception of the middle mile by recalling a recent trip with his daughter to Spokane, a four- to five-hour drive from his home in the Seattle area. Airfare would have cost more than $500 a ticket, so they drove.
Airfares on short-haul commercial flights typically are more expensive per mile than longer-distance flights, and the short-haul flights often operate less frequently. To optimize operating costs, airlines typically prefer to operate fewer flights with larger-capacity airplanes on short routes.
All-electric propulsion could slash operating costs so much that more frequent flights on small airplanes or even on-demand service become competitive, Ganzarski said.
A purpose-built all-electric airplane could cut costs by as much as 80 percent, according to several industry experts and researchers. The savings come from reduced fuel costs and easier maintenance. An electric motor has far fewer moving parts that wear out, need to be checked, and periodically replaced.
While Magnix expects that it can succeed based on existing demand, electric aviation’s value proposition will drive growth in the middle-mile sector, he said. There currently are about 2,000 operators flying middle-mile routes—carrying eight to 15 passengers up to 100 miles, according to Magnix’s market research.
Magnix’s goal is not only to succeed as an engine manufacturer but to “change the way [commercial] aviation is done,” Ganzarski said. The company’s owner, Singapore-based Clermont Group, shares that goal and understands it is a long-term one, he said.
Clermont Group’s founder, New Zealander Richard Chandler, has a reputation for making long-term investments. Most of its investments are in finance, health care, and energy. In January, it invested $76 million in Eviation Aircraft for notes convertible to a 70 percent stake, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Magnix started working with Eviation in the third quarter of 2018, and the airframer already has put the Magni250 through 1,500 test hours, including in extreme conditions, an Eviation spokeswoman said. Eviation expects to start initial production of the Alice this year and already has commitments from U.S. regional carriers, said CEO Omer Bar-Yohay.
In the next 12 months, Magnix plans to set up a moving assembly line capable of producing a few hundred engines a year by the time the Alice enters service, Ganzarski said. It currently makes about 30 engines a year.
The company has not settled on a production location. It moved its headquarters from Brisbane, Australia, to Redmond, Washington, in 2018. About 50 employees are still in Australia, with another 20 in Redmond. The company expects to hire another 10 or so people at the Redmond location.