DHL Launches All-Electric Alice Cargo Version

Credit: Eviation

Global logistics operator DHL Express has signed on as the launch customer for a cargo variant of Eviation’s Alice electric regional aircraft as part of pioneering plans to establish a sustainable electric express freight network from 2024 onwards.

The order for 12 aircraft marks a breakthrough for Arlington, Washington-based Eviation, which in June revealed a major redesign of the battery-powered Alice. Configured with forward and aft access doors and one continuous cargo bay with 450 ft.3 of cargo capacity, the aircraft will feature a 2,600-lb. payload capacity; a maximum range of up to 440 nm and a maximum cruise speed of 220 kt.

Designed to flown by a single pilot and requiring 30 min. or less to charge per flight hour, the electric Alice will be flown on feeder routes currently served by piston- and turboprop-powered aircraft. The initial aircraft “will be targeted for operations in the southeast and west coast of the United States,” said Travis Cobb, executive vice president Global Network Operations and Aviation for DHL Express. Recharging will be achieved during brief ground stops between unloading and loading.

“While we have yet to define the exact routes the aircraft will be deployed on, we see them as a good fit for regional feeder routes, which are suited to the payload and range of Alice,” Geoff Kehr, head of Global Air Fleet Management, DHL Express, told Aviation Week. “That is, routes within 800 mi. with a shipment density and weight that matches Alice’s cargo capabilities.”

The Alice acquisition forms part of parent company Deutsche Post DHL Group’s sustainability plan announced in early 2021 under which it will invest €7 billion ($8.3 billion) by 2030 in measures to reduce its CO2 emissions. The funds will go towards electrification of its last-mile delivery fleet, sustainable aviation fuels and climate-neutral buildings.

DHL’s venture into all-electric fixed-wing aircraft comes as other express cargo operators such as UPS begin plans to operate electric vertical-take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicles. In April, UPS Flight Forward ordered 10 Beta Technologies’ Alias for use as feeder freighters, with an option for purchase up to 150. DHL says it is still too early to determine whether it will follow suit by expanding to eVTOLs.

“We are taking an exciting first step with Eviation,” Kehr said. “Seeing the result of the first deployments from 2024 onwards will allow us to evaluate next steps in this area. We will continue to explore the opportunities to deploy electric-powered or hybrid electric aircraft and other technologies as part of our overall effort to reach zero emissions by 2050.”

“The eCargo variant of Alice is identical to the commuter variant except for the interior,” Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay told Aviation Week. “The Alice is designed for rapid loading and unloading of cargo for quicker turns. It also features hard points throughout the cabin to accommodate multiple cargo nets for flexible, secure containment zones of loose package cargo. A temperature-controlled cargo compartment ensures that temperature-sensitive goods stay safe in transit.”

The redesigned Alice, which is due to make its first flight by the end of this year, has a tricycle gear and will be easier to load and unload than the original, which was configured with a tailwheel landing gear. The revised design includes a T-tail in place of the first version’s V-tail, and two tractor propellers on nacelles mounted on the aft fuselage. The aircraft now has two 640-kW magni650 electric propulsion units from sister company MagniX in place of three 280-kW magni250 electric motors on the first version.

Takeoff gross weight will be 14,700 lb., up from 14,000 lb. on the original, while the aircraft’s high aspect-ratio wing span has increased from just over 53 ft. to 59.1 ft. Battery weight remains unchanged at 8,200 lb. with 820 kWh of energy capacity, down from 900 kWh originally, using available lithium-nickel manganese cobalt oxide cells.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.