A virtual rendering of the front of an Eviation Alice eCargo plane in front of a DHL warehouse
Seattle-based Eviation president is Canadian aerospace engineer, Gregory Davis, who is a former executive at Viking Air Ltd

DHL Express is teaming up with U.S.-based Eviation Aircraft, as the first customer for the Seattle-area-based startup’s Alice eCargo electric plane, to bring electric-powered transport to the skies

DHL Express, one of the world’s largest logistics and delivery companies, just made a significant down payment on its corporate parent’s recent commitment to be net-zero by 2050, with an order for 12 electric cargo aircraft supplied by U.S.-based, Singapore-owned aviation company, Eviation Aircraft.

The purchase, announced this week, will see DHL acquire 12 Alice eCargo planes from Eviation, to form what is says will be “the world’s first electric Express network.” The acquisition is in line with Deutsche Post DHL Group’s sustainability roadmap, released earlier this year. Delivery of the planes is slated for 2024.

“We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics,” said John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express in a press release. “Therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint. On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions.”

DHL’s roadmap to zero emissions also includes the electrification of DHL’s last-mile fleet and having climate-neutral buildings by 2030. As of 2020, the company delivers about 1.6 billion packages per year.

An Eviation all electric Alice eCargo plan in DHL Express livery
An Eviation all electric Alice eCargo plan in DHL Express livery. The Alice needs 30 minutes to charge for every hour of flight time. Image: DHL

What is Eviation?

As electrification of ground transportation becomes increasingly crowded with more and more companies jockeying for first position, electric transportation in the skies has proved a more challenging arena.

Eviation was founded in 2015 by three Israeli partners and headquartered near Seattle. Its president is Canadian aerospace engineer, Gregory Davis, who is a former executive at Viking Air Ltd.

Eviation operated largely under the radar until the 2019 Paris Air Show when the company debuted its full-sized (flightless) Alice aircraft, advertised at US$4 million apiece. The company also announced that it had its first corporate partner, Cape Air, in Massachusetts, which had ordered 92 of the carriers.

Shortly thereafter, in August 2019, Eviation was acquired by Clermont Group — a Singapore-based conglomerate that already owned Eviation’s engine supplier, magniX. MagniX is also providing the engines to Canada’s flagship electric aircraft manufacturer, Harbour Air, in Vancouver.

This July, Eviation announced it had overhauled the original Alice prototype and the new version would be powered by two electric engines and have a 440-nautical-mile range (815 kilometres). Eviation is aiming to have its first test flight this year.

A single-pilot plane, the Alice needs 30 minutes to charge for every hour of flight time and can be charged while being loaded. According to the press release, the planes will “operate in all environments currently served by piston and turbine aircraft,” and is best used on “feeder routes.”

Eviation executive chairman Roei Ganzarski said in the press release the planes will help meet the demand set forth by changing consumer habits.

“With on-demand shopping and deliveries on a constant rise, Alice is enabling DHL to establish a clean, quiet and low-cost operation that will open up greater opportunities for more communities,” he said.

Electric planes in Canadian skies — perhaps

The breakthrough nature of DHL’s order immediately raises the question: what parts of the world will get to see the electric planes first?

In an e-mail to Electric Autonomy Canada, communications, sustainability and brand, Americas DHL representative, Pamela Duque Rai, said the initial routes of the electric cargo planes will primarily be in the southeast and western United States.

“While DHL has yet to define the exact routes the aircraft will be deployed on, the company sees them as a good fit for regional feeder routes. Seeing the result of the first deployments from 2024 onwards will allow DHL to evaluate next steps in this area, including possible electric feeder routes in, or to Canada and other countries,” she said.

“We continue to explore more opportunities to deploy electric-powered or hybrid electric aircraft and other technologies as part of our overall effort to reach zero emissions by 2050.”

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