VoltAero's Hybrid-Electric Cassio Aircraft: From Bordeaux to Beyond
Interview with VoltAero's Director General and Co-Founder, Marina Evans.
At this year's Dubai Air Show, VoltAero, the next-generation aircraft company from Bordeaux, made a series of announcements, including unveiling an 'intelligent mobile' charging station tailored for electric aircraft. We delved into the company's plans and outlook in an interview with VoltAero's Director General and Co-Founder, Marina Evans.
VoltAero boasts a trio of founders, including CEO Jean Botti and Technical Director Didier Esteyne, all of whom bring their expertise from Airbus.
They’ve been working on electric aircraft since 2011. However, recognising the present constraints of battery technology, the company shifted its focus to developing hybrid-electric aircraft, foreseeing a further transition to hydrogen in the coming decade.
According to Evans, the fully electric mode enables a flight range of approximately 150km. Addressing purported claims by others in the sector, Evans affirmed:
"If you see fully-electric aircraft or eVTOLs promising you more, it's not true because of the battery capacity."
As a hybrid-electric aircraft, VoltAero's range extends to 1200 km.
The technological core of VoltAero's technology lies in its adoption of a parallel hybrid system. Evans said there are two sources of energy, which can work independently or together, providing dual redundancy for heightened safety, allowing the pilot to operate seamlessly with either power source.
In operational terms, VoltAero prioritises a noise-conscious approach, with takeoff and landing facilitated by electric motors, significantly reducing the noise footprint for communities near airports.
Simultaneously, the gas turbine engine is compatible with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Evans revealed that the demonstrator aircraft has been "flying on wine," utilising biofuel derived from agricultural waste from Bordeaux's vineyards.
‘Revolution by evolution’
Embracing a 'revolution by evolution' strategy, VoltAero focuses on the sub-19 passenger market, commencing with smaller models and progressively advancing to larger ones.
The Cassio 330 can accommodate five passengers and is slated to debut in 2024, followed by the Cassio 480 (six seats) and the Cassio 600 (10-12 seats).
Beyond catering to commuter flights and offering a sustainable alternative for business jets, Evans emphasised the spacious cabin's versatility, making it suitable for cargo operations and accommodating passengers with wheelchairs.
Addressing the decision not to develop larger aircraft, Evans echoed sentiments expressed by Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran at the 2022 APEX Conference, where he advocated a reimagination of shorter-distance flights with smaller hybrid-electric aircraft functioning as convenient hop-on, hop-off shuttles, “like an Uber”. (Note: VoltAero is an active participant in Air New Zealand's "Mission NextGen Aircraft" program.)
Interestingly, there are a number of next-generation aircraft companies that have come out of France, such as VoltAero and Beyond Aero. When we spoke to Beyond Aero founder Eloa Guillotin last month, she highlighted the incentives being provided by the French government as one reason for that.
Evans agreed, but said that being based in the EU has downsides as well. In the European Union, Evans said, “You get subsidies, you get grants, on the local, regional and national level, and also from the European Commission.” At the same time, Evans explained:
“The problem that exists in France, and in Europe in general, is that it is very difficult to find private investment funds.”
However, contrary to the industry estimates cited in our book "Sustainability in the Air," Evans contested the notion that developing a clean-sheet aircraft requires at least $500 million — or ideally $1 billion.
Highlighting the capital-intensive nature of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) projects, she asserted that they might need this level of investment due to added infrastructure and certification challenges, but this would not be the case for a company like VoltAero.
Looking ahead: Universal Mobile Charger & Hydrogen
VoltAero further showcased its commitment to innovation at the Dubai Airshow by unveiling a universal mobile charger for the Cassio family of electric-hybrid aeroplanes and other electric aircraft.
This intelligent charger has the capability to recharge the Cassio 330 in approximately 30 minutes and can be autonomously deployed to designated locations for efficient aircraft recharging.
Looking ahead, VoltAero aims to embrace hydrogen as a propulsion system. Alongside the debut of the intelligent charger, the company presented four-cylinder and six-cylinder internal combustion engines designed by Kawasaki Motors, capable of operating with hydrogen.
Evans anticipates VoltAero's aircraft will be using hydrogen by 2035. Though Airbus has a similar target, Evans was confident that VoltAero would get there first.
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