The race toward zero-emission logistics chains is expanding from the road to the skies.
DHL Express, the air cargo subsidiary of Deutsche Post AG, has ordered 12 all-electric aircraft to complement its fleet of battery-powered delivery vans and bikes, a move that will reduce emissions from air services. The Eviation Aircraft Ltd.-built freighters, known as Alice models, will be able to carry 2,600 pounds (1,179 kilograms) and have a range of 440 nautical miles.
“The Alice can be charged while loading and unloading operations occur,” DHL said in a statement on Tuesday, adding it takes 30 minutes to charge the plane’s batteries. The aircraft are slated to join DHL’s fleet in 2024 and be deployed on routes in California, a company spokesman said.
“The electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions,” said DHL Express Chief Executive Officer John Pearson.
The deal is an indication of the intensifying pressure on transport providers from regulators and investors to lower emissions and minimize their impact on climate change. Amazon.com Inc. last year won regulatory approval to operate a fleet of battery-powered delivery drones charged with renewable electricity sources. United Parcel Service Inc., FedEx Corp. and others have ordered thousands of electric vans built by the likes of Rivian Automotive Inc., Arrival Ltd. and Canoo Inc.
Electric-plane technology lags that of vehicles largely due to the engineering challenges posed by the need for hefty batteries. While some manufacturers are working on the problem, the launch of commercial models remains years away. Ivo Boscarol, owner of e-plane pioneer Pipistrel, has said cargo aircraft is a more achievable goal than the urban taxis being developed by some companies.
Eviation, an electric-plane start-up, has said the Alice will make its inaugural flight this year. Until now, the model has been envisioned as a nine-seat passenger plane. With the DHL deal, it aspires to become the world’s first battery-powered cargo freighter as well, albeit one that can carry less than one fiftieth of the payload of a Boeing Co. 777.
DHL will use the model to transport time-sensitive packages for customers in all environments currently serviced by piston and turbine aircraft.
Eviation, which moved to the Seattle area from Israel in December 2020 to tap into its aerospace expertise, said in 2019 it had a backlog of more than 150 orders from customers including Cape Air, a regional carrier in New York and New England.
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