Cape Air Flight 1965 from Boston to Provincetown is a quintessential puddle jumper. Several times a day, the seven-passenger Cessna 402 takes off from Boston Logan International and climbs to its maximum altitude of 800 feet. Twin propellers thrumming, it heads toward the sandy spiral tip of Cape Cod. Fourteen minutes later, the 402’s wheels screech onto the runway at Provincetown. Total distance traveled: 45 miles, versus the 120-mile road-and-bridge route, a slog that can stretch to six hours on Friday afternoons in August.
This isn’t cutting-edge aviation. Cape Air Corp.’s Cessnas are up to 40 years old and lack most comforts—including bathrooms—that even folks in steerage class demand. But Cape Air, focused entirely on short-range flights, aims to open a doorway to the future. As civil aviation works to become carbon-neutral worldwide by 2050, the first electric planes to replace fossil-fuel models will almost certainly ply short hops such as Boston-Provincetown.
Cape Air, which has about 100 aircraft flying 40 routes, all under 250 miles, is ready for the change. “If an electric airplane were built today, we would start implementing that,” says Senior Vice President Jim Goddard. The company is the first customer for the Alice, a nine-passenger, twin-engine plane being developed by Eviation Aircraft Ltd., a startup based just north of Seattle. Cape Air has signaled it’s ready to buy as many as 75 of the planes, which will have a range of 280 miles at a cruising speed of 185 mph. Eviation hopes to have the Alice in service by 2027.
Carbon-free aviation is starting with such modest goals because it’s far more difficult to electrify a plane than a car. Pound for pound, today’s best batteries store about one-sixth as much energy as jet fuel. Since flying machines must expend energy keeping every pound of their own weight aloft, an electric aircraft can’t go as far, as fast or as high.
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