The prospect of electric on-demand air taxi services is a lot closer than you think, says the chief executive of Bye Aerospace.
The Colorado-based company, which has been developing a two-seat trainer that could revolutionise the pilot training industry, has set its sights on progressing a four-seat aircraft that will have full Part-23 certification for commercial applications.
“There has been so much in the media about electric ducted fans, and on-demand trips from A to B with a single click on your iPhone,” says George Bye, CEO of Bye Aerospace. “But so much of this is about the future. It is about vision. We know the challenges of FAA airspace and issues of certification and we are already flying now.”
Bye has been one of the pioneers of electric-powered aircraft and almost a decade ago reengined a Cessna 172 to help the OEM look at ways to reduce operating costs for training aircraft.
“The electric propulsion system that was the size of a briefcase then – it is now as small as a stack of pancakes,” Bye says.
Bye went on to develop the Sun Flyer 2, a two-seat trainer that can reduce the operating cost to just $3 per hour. “Cost is the biggest barrier to training as a pilot. We know about the pilot shortage that is coming. This makes flying affordable,” he says.
The first prototype for the Sun Flyer 2 completed its first flight at Centennial Airport, south of Denver, on 10 April. A partnership with Siemens to collaborate on the electric propulsion system was announced in May.
But Bye is thinking bigger.
“Given the level of interest in more-efficient and more-affordable short-range air taxi service, we are being contacted by proactive, forward-thinking companies,” says Bye. “They understand the low-cost operating benefits and market potential of using four-seat electric aircraft for a comfortable shorter-haul on-demand air transportation service. These short-haul on-demand routes include connections out of key business centres like the LA Basin, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.”
With a cruise speed of a relatively high-speed 165kts, the four-seat IFR-capable Sun Flyer 4 will closely follow the FAA certification of the Sun Flyer 2. Features include a comfortable 46in cabin width and a remarkable 850lb payload with a full airframe ballistic recovery parachute for safety. It will feature more than four hours endurance and has full operating costs of less than $20 an hour. A trip of 225nm (417km) would cost $30 compared with $215 on a Cessna 182 Skylane, Bye says.
“Current research confirms that we are on the leading-edge of a revolutionary transition to electric aviation,” Bye says.