A proven machine would get a new drive. Airport background: charging truck for batteries. It is a market advantage if the machine can be converted to electric, but also if the factory offers the model with three different types of propulsion.
A new player, and an important one at that, has entered the electric machine race with a new and old design. Diamond, the manufacturer of the successful small machines, has already given away the type name of the construction: eDA-40.
The Vienna-based company is designing with flying schools in mind, and Diamond has a special focus on this sector, offering a range of solutions for pilot training in the single- and twin-engine categories. However, the ‘All-Electric’ genre has its own set of constraints, and the company is apparently aiming to address these by designing not only the aircraft itself, but also the servicing background for its operation.
So: the plane can fly for ninety minutes on a single charge, which is not bad for the electric category, but the manufacturer is careful to add that this depends on the state of battery technology, so it may not be possible with the current ones. However, obviously, anything less than ninety minutes is suitable, when training is at a basic level, it is not about flying long distances, but about school circuits, take-offs and landings, take-offs and landings. It is promised that discharged batteries can be recharged at the airport in twenty minutes.
The company’s fancy drawing shows charging from a pylon similar to the one where petrol or diesel versions get their fuel. But there is also another method, whereby at airports where such charging points have not (yet) been built, mobile charging would be used, using a vehicle heavily loaded with batteries that could be attached to the plane like a fuel truck, charging the power sources from plane to plane. And the charging vehicle itself could be charged during the overnight shutdown.
Compared to the conventional piston-engine version, the eDA-40’s operating costs are forty(!) percent lower, according to the manufacturer, while training is supported by the standard Garmin G1000 instrument panel, which means that students can be familiarised with large glass cockpits during basic training.
But the really interesting thing is that the eDA-40 means that no new aircraft at Diamond is designed for electric propulsion and, importantly, the manufacturer hopes to convert existing internal combustion engine powered aircraft to electric propulsion in the future. Diamond therefore apparently expects flying schools to convert their existing DA-40s to electric power for cheaper maintenance.
The new propulsion system is therefore based on an established model with the same flight characteristics, the batteries are located in a separate tank in the lower part of the fuselage, and the extra weight does not change the centre of gravity, the flight characteristics, the handling of the aircraft or the cabin dimensions. In view of the above, the manufacturer does not intend to obtain an airworthiness certificate for a new type, but for a new engine for the type already certified.
Among the echoes, it is worth mentioning the AvWeb analysis, which of course also raises questions about how much the batteries of electric aircraft lose power in harsher conditions, such as when the cabin has to be heated. One US flight school director believes that the most appropriate approach would be a gradual transition, with some or all of the aircraft first converting from petrol to Jet-A fuel, which has a much lower cost disadvantage than before, and then the electric fleet.
As you know, Diamond has long had its own diesel program, its diesel planes are flying, so it should have no problem serving this phased concept. However, it is to be expected that electric propulsion will be pressed upon users by the expected increasingly stringent environmental regulations, in addition to economic considerations.
In any case, if the fleet needs to be adapted rather than replaced for these increments, it could indeed make Diamond’s concept of a proven kite and a new kind of propulsion system particularly attractive. And it can certainly be a big advantage in the market if a kite can be offered by the manufacturer with three different engines from the outset.