As investments in the broader climate sector heat up, and the EV sector gains momentum, electric aviation is also flying high.
Ampaire, an Elemental Excelerator portfolio company with $7M+ from NASA and backed by Techstars, is has been innovating in the space. The aviation industry is responsible for nearly 3% of global emissions, and Ampaire can directly reduce the emissions of planes by up to 50% in their hybrids.
They also were also recently acquired by Surf Air Mobility.
Can you describe what your company does, the impact, and how it differs from other competitors in the space?
Ampaire is a leader in fixed wing electric aviation, focusing initially on regional aircraft where it sees near-term opportunities for electrification of entire airline fleets. Others in this segment are designing clean sheet aircraft, an expensive and lengthy process, plus one that is complicated by the rapid evolution of battery technology and electric propulsion systems. Still others are developing all-electric drives as retrofits for small regional aircraft.
Ampaire takes a different approach. It is focused initially on the retrofit market and is developing hybrid-electric solutions as a bridge to fully electric aircraft. Ampaire’s approach has at least four main benefits: the retrofit strategy entails substantially lower technological risks and costs; time to market is far faster (just a few years); the company is able to incorporate new technologies more easily in its development roadmap; and the market is ready to embrace a step change that lowers operating cost and requires less infrastructure initially to recharge and service all-electric aircraft.
To date, Ampaire has successfully flown two hybrid electric testbed aircraft—upgrades of the Cessna 337, including routine flights on a Mokulele Airlines route (with observers), and flights of more than two and a half hours, including a cross country from the Los Angeles area to the San Francisco bay. The company is evaluating hybrid electric upgrades of the Cessna Caravan and the Viking (né De Havilland) Twin Otter, the latter with NASA support.
How does the ecosystem/partners/customer seek to benefit from your technology?
The first benefit is reduced emissions, something important to everyone on the planet. These upgraded aircraft will be quieter, making them good neighbors at urban and suburban airports, and more pleasant for passengers. Additionally, a hybrid-electric upgrade reduces hourly operating cost. With a lower cost structure, regional airlines will find opportunities to expand routes and serve previously unprofitable destinations. Improved air service will benefit many communities.
What are the current trends in the sector? What does the future look like?
We’re at the very earliest stage of an electric revolution. Norway, as one example, intends for all domestic routes to be flown by electric aircraft by 2040—an entirely achievable goal. We expect this approach will be embraced by many other countries. And, in any case, airlines will look to electric aviation for a cost advantage and as a matter of corporate responsibility. Today we are focused on 9- to 19-seat aircraft certifiable under FAA Part 23 regulations for aircraft under 12,500 pounds. These technologies are scalable, and we expect to eventually move to larger aircraft under the more complex Part 25 rules for transport aircraft.
Electric aviation presents an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and noise pollution, as well as bringing back business to smaller regional airports. The piece of the puzzle we can’t forget about is the infrastructure and energy resources for the planes.
About The Author
Co-Founder at The Impact
Daniel currently works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His original assignment was to maintain and update facility safety documentation for all facilities on-site, and perform risk analysis. Over time, his role has expanded to leading continuous improvement efforts through product management.
Concurrently, Daniel volunteers with Techstars, helping organize startup weekends, and with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, organizing events on the local and national levels of the organization. He also volunteers with One World, and previously with Powerhouse Ventures, to source and screen startups for potential investment.
Daniel holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis, and recently completed coursework in energy innovation from Stanford. His passion is at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and business.