1 December 2021

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

DHL Express and Azul join growing band of carriers planning all-electric aircraft operations

Cargo operator DHL Express and Brazilian airline Azul have become the latest carriers to join the early pacesetters in making commitments to take delivery of all-electric aircraft in the coming years, reports Mark Pilling. DHL has ordered 12 all-electric Eviation Alice eCargo aircraft from the Seattle-based manufacturer, with deliveries expected to begin in 2024. In its cargo configuration, the aircraft will be able to carry 1,200kgs of freight. In the other development, Munich-based all-electric aircraft pioneer Lilium jointly announced with Azul that the two companies intend to enter negotiations to build an exclusive electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) network in Brazil. If this deal comes to fruition, Azul will acquire 220 seven-seater all-electric eVTOL Lilium Jets with the first aircraft expected to enter service in 2025. Lilium has also announced new appointments to its board of directors, which is chaired by former Airbus CEO Thomas Enders.

Eviation’s deal with DHL is its first order for the Alice aircraft. The financial terms of the deal have not been revealed. “With this engagement DHL aims to set up an unparalleled electric Express network and make a pioneering step into a sustainable aviation future,” said the express service operator. “We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics,” said John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express. “Therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint. On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions. Founded in 1969, DHL Express has been known as a pioneer in the aviation industry for decades. We have found the perfect partner with Eviation as they share our purpose, and together we will take off into a new era of sustainable aviation.”

Eviation said the Alice is on track for its first flight later this year. The aircraft has been specifically designed so that it can be configured for e-cargo or passengers. It can be flown by a single pilot and will carry 1,200 kilograms of cargo. Eviation said it will require 30 minutes or less to charge per flight hour and have a maximum range of up to 815km and be capable of operating in all environments currently serviced by piston and turbine aircraft. “Alice’s advanced electric motors have fewer moving parts to increase reliability and reduce maintenance costs,” explained Eviation. “Its operating software constantly monitors flight performance to ensure optimal efficiency.”

The aircraft is ideal for feeder routes and requires less investment in station infrastructure, said DHL, and can be charged while loading and unloading operations occur, ensuring quick turnaround times that maintain tight schedules.

“From day one, we set an audacious goal to transform the aviation industry and create a new era with electric aircraft,” said Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay. “Partnering with companies like DHL, who are the leaders in sustainable e-cargo transportation, is a testament that the electric era is upon us. This announcement is a significant milestone on our quest to transform the future of flight across the globe.”

Added Eviation’s Executive Chairman, Roei Ganzarski: “The next time you order an on-demand package, check if it was delivered with a zero-emission aircraft like DHL will be doing. With on-demand shopping and deliveries on a constant rise, Alice is enabling DHL to establish a clean, quiet and low-cost operation that will open up greater opportunities for more communities.”

In May, DHL Global Forwarding joined United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance programme along with other global corporations to purchase emissions reductions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) through a ‘book and claim’ mechanism. The programme’s participants will contribute towards SAF purchases of 3.4 million gallons (12.9 million litres) this year, leading to a total reduction of around 31,000 tons of GHG emissions on a lifecycle basis compared to conventional jet fuel.

The decarbonisation of its operations is one of the main pillars of Deutsche Post DHL Group’s new sustainability roadmap announced in the first quarter of 2021. The Group said it is investing €7 billion ($8.2bn) 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. On the way to the zero emissions target by 2050, which has already been in place for four years, the company said it is committing to new, ambitious interim targets. The Group has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Lilium’s seven-seater eVTOL aircraft

At the headline level, the commercial and strategic alliance between Lilium and Azul would potentially be worth $1 billion. “Lilium plans to work with Azul to radically transform high-speed regional transportation in a country which sees close to 100 million domestic air passengers a year and is currently one of the world’s leading civilian helicopter and business aviation markets,” said the companies in a joint announcement. “Combining Azul’s deep knowledge of the Brazilian market with Lilium’s unique eVTOL aircraft platform, the companies plan to negotiate the terms for the establishment of a co-branded network in Brazil. As part of the commercial arrangement, Lilium would intend to sell 220 aircraft for Azul to operate across the network expected to start in 2025 for an aggregate value of up to $1 billion. The strategic alliance and aircraft order with Azul remain subject to the parties finalising commercial terms and definitive documentation.”

Azul would expect to operate and maintain the Lilium Jet fleet, while Lilium would provide an aircraft health monitoring platform, replacement batteries and other custom spare parts. Azul also expects to support Lilium with the necessary regulatory approval processes in Brazil for certification of the Lilium Jet and any other required regulatory approvals.

Lilium said it plans to be in operation in multiple regions in 2025, offering the opportunity to travel faster than existing high-speed alternatives and with zero-operating emissions. Lilium’s Brazil launch plans would be expected to provide significant incremental revenue alongside previously announced network launch plans in Germany and Florida in the United States.

Daniel Wiegand, co-founder and CEO of Lilium said: “Azul has brought convenient and affordable air travel to underserved markets across the Americas and this makes them an ideal partner for Lilium. We’re excited to work with Azul’s seasoned team to deploy a co-branded eVTOL network in Brazil.”

Azul CEO John Rodgerson said: “Azul is the largest domestic airline in Brazil in terms of cities served and daily departures. Our brand presence, our unique route network, and our powerful loyalty programme give us the tools to create the markets and demand for the Lilium Jet network in Brazil. As we did in the Brazilian domestic market over the last 13 years, we look forward to again, now with the Lilium Jet, working to create a whole new market in the years to come.”

David Neeleman, Chairman of Azul, said: “Since Azul’s founding 13 years ago, the Brazilian aviation market has doubled with Azul capturing almost 60% of the growth. We know how to create and grow new markets, and once again we see huge market opportunity by bringing the Lilium Jet to Brazil.” Lilium has also announced the appointment of Gabrielle Toledano, COO at Keystone Strategy, and Henri Courpron, founder and Chairman of Plane View Partners, and former chief executive of ILFC and Airbus North America, to Lilium’s board of directors. The board will be chaired by former Airbus Chief Executive Thomas Enders, upon completion of a previously announced merger with Qell. Led by Barry Engle, a former president of General Motors North America, Lilium’s deal with Qell Acquisition Corp will provide it with access to capital and industry experience.

Top image: DHL Express has ordered 12 all-electric Eviation Alice eCargo aircraft