Continuing our series on the future of air travel, USTN spoke to Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, the Seattle-based company which is powering the electric aviation revolution.
Roei previously worked as the Chief Customer Officer for Boeing’s Flight Services division, leading all worldwide customer and market facing organizations. He then went on to serve as CEO of BoldIQ: a global provider of dynamic, real-time scheduling optimization software. Under Roei’s leadership, BoldIQ was able to grow from a software startup to a profitable multi-million-dollar company in just six years.
He now leads magniX, which has the not unambitious aim of facilitating an all-electric future for commercial air travel. The company is credited with some important milestones in the future of flight, including the world’s first and the world’s largest all-electric commercial aircraft. Now, they have their sights set on even bigger things.
You say the aviation industry should offer greater flexibility and little or no emissions. Can you explain a little more about what that would look like?
Airplanes are very expensive to operate, and with today’s propulsion technology, they require significant maintenance and are also very polluting. This results in an aviation transport system that is not very efficient, effective, or environmentally friendly. For example, out of the over 10,000 airports in the US, airlines only use about 600 of them. Why? Because the rest are too small to fill the big planes airlines make money with and lack the significant support systems required for the larger aircraft. Plus, Aviation contributes 4% of global CO2. And the shorter the flight the more the impact because the aircraft does not get to benefit from the most efficient part of the fight which is high altitude cruise.
Electric airplanes will be 40%-80% lower cost to operate per flight hour. They are also smaller seating 6 – 40 passengers at this stage. That means operators will be able to fly more planes from and into smaller airports closer to your home or destination. That means less crowded airports, less waiting, less hassle. A shorter and more convenient door-to-door experience. And it will all be done with no harmful emissions!
In 2019 you helped facilitate the world’s first fully electric commercial flight. What innovations went into this achievement?
In terms of the tech itself, some key innovations are in our propulsion system:
Power to weight ratio is critical in aviation. We had to have enough power to lift the aircraft while not doing so with added weight compared to regular internal combustion engines. And this is at the system level. Not just the motor. When looking at the entire propulsion system you must include the motor, the power electronics, thermal management, EWIS, and more.
We had to achieve the above with reliability and redundancy expected from aerospace grade propulsion systems. For example, our 560kW / 750HP all electric propulsion system, has 4 separately controlled and monitored 3-phase sections in it. So there is built in reliability both inside the motor itself and within the power electronics system. If there is a fault or failure during flight, we can detect in which section it is occurring, shut it down, and maintain 75% power and so on providing the pilot with ‘graceful degradation’ vs an all-or-nothing that the internal combustion engine mandates.
The above had to be achieved while maintaining a steady temperature for steady performance. Liquid cooling was required in a way that did not add significant weight burden on the system. We achieved this with a proprietary integrated closed-loop liquid cooling technology.
All of the above had to be achieved with a propulsion system that could develop full torque and power turning at a very low 1900 rpm. Traditional engines turn at very high speeds to create their power (10,000 – 20,000 rpm). Some electric systems have been able to go as low as 5,000 rpm. However, with the propeller limited to 1900 rpm (or thereabouts depending on the aircraft), a heavy, maintenance prone reduction gearbox is installed on the aircraft. With the magniX propulsion system providing all of this while only turning at 1900 rpm, we are able to connect the propeller directly to the shaft without any gear box, meaning much less weight, less maintenance, less cost, less losses.
What aviation milestones are you set on reaching next?
We started with the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft, followed by the largest all electric commercial aircraft. Both of these were magnified aircraft (retrofits). This year we plan on powering the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft that was designed from the ground up to be so – the Eviation Alice. And the biggest milestone, not too far away, is the future we envision where passengers will naturally board an all-electric aircraft and not understand how anyone ever flew ranges of up to a thousand miles with anything other than electric aircraft. And it will be all thanks to the technology magniX are creating and implementing today.
What are the greatest technical challenges currently facing your propulsion systems?
I wouldn’t call them challenges, but now that the propulsion is in place, the current reality of battery technology and hydrogen fuel cells is next in line to be advanced. The market requires more development in order to power all-electric aircraft for further distances and higher payloads. magniX’s flying programs will help catalyze additional innovation in battery technology so that aircraft can fly further and carry more people and cargo. We have seen from ground transportation that once electric cars started showing up, even with their initial limited range, that the investment in battery technology increased dramatically. We expect that to continue and strengthen.
Are you excited by big airliner manufacturers like Airbus entering the zero-emissions sector?
Absolutely. I want to see a future where all aircraft are emission free. We believe that 15 years from now, all flights less than a thousand miles in range, will be completely electric. And in 40 to 50 years, we’ll see all flights fully electric.