You might have read elsewhere that regional airline Cape Air has struck a deal to buy 75 electric airplanes, the Eviation Alice nine-passenger twin. Terms were not announced.
In deals like this, terms are seldom announced, and when they are, they often are spoken of in terms of value instead of real dollars. Let’s say that Airline A buys 10 jets from Plane Maker B in a deal that’s “valued at” $500 million. What that means is almost nothing. How much did the operator pay for the planes? We have no idea, except that it almost certainly wasn’t the number at which the deal was “valued.” To reach that number, you simply, as you could see, multiply the planes bought by the number bought. Bingo. But it’s a lie. The price an airline pays for planes is never the retail price; it’s always lower. This is true for fleet buyers of bizjets and little airplanes, too. Big flight schools and jet fractional ownership providers get big discounts. If they didn’t, they’d strike a different deal with a different aircraft manufacturer. It’s the way the game is played.
The Cape Air-Eviation deal is even worse (or just more different depending on your perspective). Now, Cape Air is a real company flying real airplanes on real routes with real passengers paying real dollars. None of that is true for Eviation, at least not yet. This airplane, the Alice, that Cape Air just struck a deal to buy 75 of, is not an airplane you can really buy.
Don’t get me wrong. The airplane exists, but it is emerging. Were it a turboprop-powered nine-seater that was for some unknown reason being developed in an aviation world that doesn’t need or want nine-seat airplanes, that would be a different story. And let me explain that Cape Air is a unicorn, a small, regional airline that makes money flying short routes with passengers willing to pay a good price for the convenience of not taking a ferry. The airline, which for many years flew old cabin-class Cessna twins, has already bought a gaggle of next-gen Tecnam P2012 twins, part of a move to modernize its fleet. The P2012 is a real, certificated airplane made for the mission that Cape Air flies.
The Alice, not so much. While it is already taxiing under its own power, it has yet to fly, and it is light years away from certification. The first of those milestones, flying, will likely happen—Eviation says it’s coming soon. But the second one, certification, is a huge unknown. The FAA has never certificated an all-electric airplane of any kind, never mind a passenger-carrying commercial one. You think they’re going to be cautious? Yup. Make no mistake. We are years away from a certificated Alice, if it ever does happen.
So why would Cape Air announce the purchase of 75 airplanes that they don’t know will be certificated or when?
Two reasons. The first—the biggest cost for any airline is fuel. Eliminating that by going all electric, and the model looks like it might work for Cape Air with its small loads and short routes, would save untold millions of dollars. It’s the holy grail of airplane operations, well, short of an airplane that runs on the pure desire for profit. So if Alice, or something like it, comes to pass, it’s a windfall for an operator like Cape Air, which would be awesome for everybody.
The other reason that the deal was announced was pure publicity. And bless their hearts, it’s working. It almost always works. Cape Air once again gets its name out there, as does Eviation with its oddly named Alice.
And the cost of such publicity? Well, terms of the “deal” weren’t announced, but I’m willing to bet the number of dollars exchanged was zero. Cape Air didn’t buy any planes but, rather, options to buy planes, which is sometimes a real thing, when the planes are a hot commodity, but more often it’s merely an excuse for buying planes without actually buying any planes at all.
I don’t know this for a fact when it comes to the. Cape Air/Eviation deal, but I do know that such deals are often (if not “usually” or “always”) a parlor trick.
No one is harmed, both companies get their names in front of the world for free and we get to think about a world in which we’re all getting whisked around the skies in electric quiet.