Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment

Hello to a New Way of Flight

New pilots are needed and they need training!
Image courtesy of Bye Aerospace

Planes that emit zero C02, do not use lead-based fuel, and are 1,000 times quieter than traditional propeller-driven aircraft is the promise of the eFlyer 2 and eFlyer 4 from Bye Aerospace, Inc. While reducing negative externalities to the public, the efficiency of an electric powertrain significantly reduces the cost of the flight to approximately 1/5 of a similar piston-motor driven airplane, according to George Bye, CEO & Founder of Bye Aerospace.

The e-Flyer 2 isn’t a pie-in-the-sky dream as prototypes are currently flying and Part 23, Amendment 64 FAA certification is planned in late 2021. Bye explains that the target market for the eFlyer 2, a 2-passenger plane, is pilot training. He indicates a demand for 804,000 new commercial pilots over the next 20-years. With a cost of $150,000, training expense is a barrier for aspiring pilots.

The low operational costs of the e-Flyer 2 (electricity less than 1/10 of aviation fuel, fewer parts to maintain, etc.) make it ideal for flight schools. Bye Aerospace has hit its target as evidenced by the hundreds of pre-orders for the eFlyer 2 from various flight training schools.

As the first one to apply for the electric flight certification, Bye Aerospace is on the leading edge of a larger aircraft industry trend towards electrification.* The long-term societal disruption the eFlyer represents is the compression of space through low-cost, relatively short-range air travel. The eFlyer 4, a 4-passenger plane, is projected to have an operational cost of about $30 per hour compared to approximately $150 per hour for a piston-driven propeller plane.

A Rough Business Model for Regional Air Travel #

Operating cost of the eFlyer compared to legacy aircraft.
Image courtesy of Bye Aerospace

With a speed of 175 knots per hour, the eFlyer 4 could cover a 100-mile radius in about 30-minutes for about $15. Assuming a pilot salary of $120 per hour, then a 100-mile, one-way three-passenger trip would be about $25 ($5 per person operational cost plus $20 for the pilot’s salary).

Although this would cost over $12,000 per year ($50 round trip times 250 workdays) and would seem prohibitively expensive at first glance, the cost savings on housing would be even greater. For instance, the difference in median home prices between Silicon Valley ($1.16M) and neighboring Merced County ($268k) is more than $800,000, according to Zillow; a savings of more than $36,000 per year at typical mortgage rates.

The flight distance between the city of Merced and San Jose is approximately 75 miles (a 2-hour drive without traffic due to the Diablo Range). A $50 roundtrip airfare would compare favorably to the projected California High-Speed Rail (HSR) cost of between $58 to $73 (page 4 and page 22- it is not clear whether these estimates are for one-way or round trips). Further, the trip in an eFlyer would last less than 30-minutes, which would be significantly shorter than the 57 minutes estimated by the High-Speed Rail Authority (page 8).**

Could This Tech Enable New Kinds of Environmentally-Friendly Communities? #

In turn, the environmental benefits of low-noise, zero-emission aircraft could impact the way new communities are developed. It’s not too difficult to imagine a car-free community (e.g. 1,000 home Culdesac in Tempe, AZ) on relatively low-cost, rural land developed around an all-electric airport. In this scenario, the bottlenecks would probably be a shortage of urban airports, as well as having enough pilots to meet demand.

In the long-term, there are many entities that are looking at ways to create short take-off and vertical take-off aircraft (stay tuned for future posts on a couple of these approaches) that would make it easier to create vertiports in urban areas. Further, automated flight control, eventually eliminating the need for a pilot, is being worked on by many entities and led by NASA (see this PDF presentation from a recent NASA conference on the topic). Automation would be a huge game-changer in terms of the economics of flight.

There are many steps to get to the George Jetson-like future of automated and vertical flight. Bye is well-positioned to take advantage of that future as his approach to solving the near-term problem of training is a great building block to what is needed for more general electric flight.

And, this is just another milestone for Bye and his company, as they have a track record of designing cutting-edge electric aircraft, such as the Silent Falcon Solar Electric UAV. And, based on their work with Oxis Energy to improve flight distance by 50 to 100% through improved battery energy density, larger planes and on-demand air-taxi service are sure to be on their roadmap.

Footnote #

*It looks like Pipistrel, a Solvenian company also has an electric flight trainer plane, Alpha Electro, and an electric motorglider, Taurus ELECTRO, that are available today. Pipistrel suggests the Alpha Electro is less than half of the cost of a traditional trainer airplane. They are available for rental in at least one location in the U.S. (although the rental rate (PDF) probably reflects their novelty, as it seems to be slightly more expensive than a comparable trainer).

**[Added 4/7/21 – The upfront cost of capital was not included for either the Bye Aerospace or the California High-Speed Rail examples above.]

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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11 replies on “Hello to a New Way of Flight”

OXIS, Bye Aerospace’s battery supplier, claims they will be at 500 Wh/kg energy density within a year (2021), using a Lithium Sulfur approach packaged in a fire-resistant carbon-fiber carrier.

This is significant as, at the Transformative Vertical Flight 2020 conference, one speaker suggested 360 Wh per Kg is the minimum useful energy density, but that same speaker suggested the reality is it is more like 180 kW/kg today. That’s what makes OXIS’ numbers significant for this nascent market.

A question I failed to ask Bye is on recharge time. Fortunately, Flying magazine asked him that question in their excellent article about him and Bye Aerospace

“Bye emphasizes the relatively short amount of time it takes to recharge the eFlyer 2 between flight-training sessions: ‘It only takes 20 minutes to recharge after a one-hour flight. So in the time the CFI debriefs the last student and briefs the next one, the eFlyer 2 can be fully charged and ready to go.'”

This AOPA article provides list pricing for the eFlyer 2 and eFlyer 4 of $489k and $627k, respectively. Although at a premium to a brand new 4 seat-piston engine plane, the reduction in operating and maintenance costs may make up the difference for the premium (e.g. a brand-new 4 seat Cirrus lists for $470k on this site

The AOPA article also hints at a 8 passenger turboprop that Bye is developing.

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