Meet Ampaire. This California-based start-up is one of the top 25 nominees of the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2018. Ampaire tackles two of the biggest problems in air travel: high operating costs and environmental impact. Two new aircraft are in development, and in the meantime, the 14-strong team is up-fitting existing vehicles with electrification technology, with a debut test flight scheduled for later this year. Here, co-founder and CEO, Kevin Noertker, discusses Ampaire’s pragmatic approach, and how reducing the aviation industry’s emissions has global implications.

“Switching to electric cuts fuel costs by a factor of ten, and reduces maintenance by about half”

What makes aviation problematic with regard to climate change?
“Annually, the aerospace industry injects about 800 million tons of CO2 directly into our atmosphere. The high altitude has a compounding effect on the environment, much greater than if those same emissions were output at ground level. There's also a direct impact on human lives: small aircraft are the greatest source of lead pollution in the US, where it’s the only transportation still using leaded fuel - really because there’s been no alternative up until now. Additionally, communities around airports are burdened by the noise of aircraft taking off, landing and flying overhead. Switching to electric makes for a significant reduction.”

Please introduce your company: Ampaire.
“Ampaire’s mission is to be the most trusted provider of practical and compelling electric aircraft technologies: everything from short haul cargo planes, all the way through, someday, supersonic transport - all fully electric. We’re about two-years-old, and anticipate our first full-size flight test later this year.”

Tell us about your upcoming test flight.
“As a startup, we’re taking the leanest, fastest path to market. So the first step is not to build a brand new airplane, which would be your traditional aerospace approach. We’re looking for a quick process to get products into customers’ hands, learn and iterate as much as possible, as quickly as possible. So the plane we’ll be flying later this year will be a six-passenger conversion - an airplane that is already flying with fuel - up-fitted with an electric propulsion system built in-house.”

You’re also building two new aircraft - Tailwind-E and Tailwind-H. When will they fly?
“Likely not until 2020. Our approach is iterative: step-by-step, proving the market and value proposition. The Tailwind-H and the Tailwind-E incorporate advanced technologies of electrification, aerospace and materials, as well as autonomy. They’ll also look different from normal airplanes. That’s because with electrification we’re able to use thrust vectoring for control and stability, where previously you needed the tail.”

rsz ampaire kevin talking to kids small
CEO Kevin Noertker talking to kids about his Tailwind planes.

When do you anticipate we’ll see electric airplanes flying commercially?
“Much sooner than you’d think! We expect our up-fitted aircraft will be flying commercially by 2021. To bring a new airplane to market, however, is very risky and challenging. Generally, it takes about 10 years and US$200 - 250million. Most of the companies are developing strategies in this area, so while we’ll start seeing new aircraft being demonstrated, I expect mid-2020s before we see the first certified new airplanes operating commercially.”

What other hurdles face the industry?
“It’s a balance between technology, market, and the regulatory environment. The Federal Aviation Administration recently updated their laws to certify electric aircraft up to 19 passengers; we think it will be another five to ten years before regulations allow for larger planes to fly commercially. One of the biggest limitations for us is range, which is determined by battery energy density. So now, a conversion aircraft may be able to fly about 100 miles useful range in our first configurations, with safety margin thereafter. That doesn’t just affect aviation; quite a few companies are working to improve battery energy density. As the technology progresses, we’ll see our market opportunity grow alongside. We expect that by 2025 electric planes will be flying commercially 300 miles, and that by 2030 we’ll see flights of 750 miles in commercial service, and 1,000 miles in demonstrations.”

Why the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge?
“You can’t expect extra kudos just for being a clean company; you have to be a great business as well. The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge represents that shift: doing well as a company, while doing good for the world. That aligns with our business approach. Aviation emissions is a challenge that everybody faces, and the markets for our technologies truly cross borders. It’s important to get the word out, and engage stakeholders across the globe. Being selected as one of the 25 finalists in this international sustainability competition, helps a great deal!”

rsz ampaire tailwind inhangar small
The Tailwind aircraft in an hangar