Ampaire's Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional aircraft, made its first flight on a fully-integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system. Ampaire expects it to be the first electrified regional aircraft to enter commercial service (certification in 2024) and the first in a series of larger Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft that will lead a transition to sustainable aviation.
"Aviation is the hardest industry to decarbonize," said Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker. "Fully-electric aircraft are range limited because of the weight and energy capacity of current-generation batteries. Hybrid-electric aircraft, however, can preserve the range and utility of today's aircraft. That is why we are focused on hybrid-electric propulsion for a series of increasingly capable regional aircraft. It's a way for the airline industry to decarbonize more quickly and also to benefit from lower operating costs."
Today's achievement adds momentum to a program that has attracted key customers and program participants in recent months. In October, the company announced a relationship with Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) for a range of worldwide maintenance service and support activities. Also last month, Ampaire received an order from MONTE, a financier of sustainable regional aviation technologies, for up to 50 Eco Caravans. "These types of relationships ensure that Ampaire's customers worldwide have compelling financing and leasing support alongside world class maintenance/repair/overhaul support," said Noertker.
The Eco Caravan upgrades the standard Cessna Grand Caravan with Ampaire's integrated propulsion system of a compression ignition engine and an electric engine. A battery pack in a body fairing preserves passenger and cargo capacity for the aircraft.
The first flight was 33 minutes in duration to make initial checks of the propulsion system. With test pilot Elliot Seguin at the controls, the Eco Caravan took off from Camarillo Airport north of Los Angeles at 7:49AM PST. It climbed to 3,500 feet at full power, combining power from the combustion engine and electric engine. Seguin then throttled back to a cruise setting, reducing load on both power sources. He spent roughly 20 minutes testing various power settings while studying temperatures and other readings before making a descent and final approach to Camarillo at a low power setting. "The Eco Caravan propulsion system performed just as expected," said Seguin. "It was smooth and quiet. All temperature and power output readings were normal."
The Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70 percent. Emissions are near zero when using sustainable aviation fuel. Cost of operation is reduced by 25 to 40 percent depending on airline route structure. Cost per available seat mile is near that of driving.