- In May 2020, magniX along with AeroTEC, took a leap of faith with the world’s largest all-electric aircraft – the 9-seater Cessna Grand Caravan
- Flying a Cessna Grand Caravan for 1.5 hours comes to only USD 24.68 in electricity, while when it comes to regular fuel, you incur USD 404.55. Coming to emissions, a regular plane causes 1897 tons of CO2, while in an electric airplane, it is zero
- These flights are all less than 100 miles, and can replace long drives of 3-4 hours or being in traffic
It was an early morning in December 2019 when a yellow-and-black DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane had a test flight on the Fraser river. Little did the world know that this 15-minute flight, operated by Harbour Air and magniX, will kickstart the third era in aviation – the electric age. It was the world’s first commercial electric airplane, a first-ever in history!
This record-breaking feat was just the beginning, because within a span of a few months, magniX along with AeroTEC, took another leap of faith with the world’s largest all-electric aircraft – the 9-seater Cessna Grand Caravan, in May 2020. The airplane that was retrofitted with an electric engine, took off from an airport in Moses Lake, Washington and completed its maiden flight of around 30 minutes.
It’s easy to draw theories and talk big about the future, but for Roei Ganzarski, Boeing veteran and CEO of magniX, it is all about an applied future. He worked on the possibilities and achieved a feat that was rather unimaginable – the dream of making aviation all-electric.
In an exclusive chat with The Blue Circle, Roei spills the beans on what makes magniX a cut above the rest, the immense possibilities of an electric aircraft, and why the future is all-electric.
Vision Behind the Mission
magniX is an all-electric propulsion company, with a goal to connect communities with clean, low-cost aviation.
“We are trying to find solutions to reduce the cost of flying. The fuel is expensive, maintenance of an engine is expensive, the only way to do so is change the technology, and the only thing that makes sense is electric. What’s more, it is also zero emission and good for the environment, it’s a double win. If you only try to win the environment argument, you lose, because there are also synthetic fuels for airplanes that cause 30 percent less emissions, but they are 3 to 5 times more expensive than regular fuel. People do say the environment is important, but they are not going to pay more for it,” added Roei.
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, commercial aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions. For the transportation sector as a whole, it’s responsible for around 12% of all carbon dioxide emissions.
“You fly the Cessna Grand Caravan for 1.5 hours, you only spend USD 24.68 in electricity, while when it comes to regular fuel, you incur USD 404.55. Coming to emissions, a regular plane causes 1897 tons of CO2, while in an electric airplane, it is zero. The fact is even if we get rid of a little, it is worth it. You can’t do everything, but you can do something,” noted Roei.
These flights are all less than 100 miles, and can replace long drives of 3-4 hours or being in traffic. Through these short-haul flights, magniX aims to provide people more access to fly, as well as to connect commerce to tier 2/3/4 cities through smaller underutilized airports.
Workings of a magniX Motor
The biggest leap for magniX earlier and even now is the motor, shared Roei. The objective was not to invent a new motor, but to design one that is lightweight and could turn at a very slow speed.
The magniX electric motor has the ability to drive the propeller without the need of an immediate gearbox between the motor shaft output and the propeller. In the case of regular airplanes, a motor that turns at 10,000-20,000 rpm is connected to a propeller that turns only at 1,900 rpm. That’s not all – a heavy mechanical gearbox is also required to step down the speed of the shaft to be in sync with the speed of the propeller, but these are non-issues for magniX.
“Our motor is divided into four independent sections, so if there’s a problem, the software will identify it and then switch off that part. – this is called ‘graceful degradation’”, shared Roei. This is not possible with a fuel-powered airplane, where you have to completely switch off the engine.
Another feat that magniX has achieved is retrofitting existing planes with their electric propulsion systems. But Roei feels that just like Tesla, the best electric airplane is the one that’s designed to be electric.
“Retrofitting is an interim solution, until an all-electric plane is ready. Retrofitting can’t function as a standalone concept, it is good as a bridge between nothing and everything,” expressed Roei, while sharing that magniX’s sister company, Israel-based Eviation is working on a new breed of airplanes that’s designed to be all-electric from the ground up.
No Additional Airport Infrastructure
Elaborating on the benefits of electric airplanes, Roei shared that there is no additional airport infrastructure that is required, unlike in a fuel-powered one. Since these airplanes are small and have an occupancy of less than 19 passengers, the pilot can conduct a security check. Moreover, there is no need for large buildings or runways, because this plane can land wherever there’s an air strip.
“You only need electricity and a charger – that’s it. And if you want the flying ecosystem to be more clean and efficient, then airports can generate their own electricity through solar micro grids within the premises,” he added.
Standard car chargers are being used, instead of inventing new standards. The convenience and affordability aspects are at the forefront of magniX’s vision, which is why they are trying to make the best possible use of available resources.
“The charging takes a little time, it is 1:1. So, if you fly for 20 minutes, you charge for 20 minutes. Of course, it is slower than putting fuel. But if I am only paying USD 24 dollars, then I can wait longer,” remarked Roei.
The Diversity Drive
Roei believes that diversity in an organisation is critical – it is not just limited to gender or race, but it is about inducting people from different backgrounds. This brings in a different thought process and eventually broadens a person’s vision.
“There is a saying, think outside the box. We tell our people there is no box and that changes the way they think. There are no limits, no rules, do whatever you want to do. Because of this, everyone can bring in different dreams and ideas, and nothing is bad,” he said.
magniX did not want to be like any other company in the sea of aviation. Instead, their approach to be quick, nimble and creative has paid off. But despite this flexibility, what remains at the centre of aviation is safety, and that is something the company does not compromise with.
“We can’t try a Beta version of an airplane, so we couldn’t function like a regular startup, we had to do things in the middle. So we told our people who came from different backgrounds to think of the best, but leave the worst behind,” he added.
The Future is Electric
In the next five years, there will be many more electric flights and new routes. Currently, in the US, there are more than 10k airports, but airlines use roughly just about 600, because of the high costs to fill an airplane. With magniX’s revolution, opportunities will widen for both people and cargo.
“I will say the middle mile flights will be all electric by 2035,” pointed Roei.
That’s not all – magniX wants to help small and medium businesses grow on the back of cheap electric planes.
“You might have a small factory in the interiors and you are not in a position to compete with the Amazons of the world. But what if you could rent a small airplane and send packages to a big airport. That’s what we want to change. Also, only the rich people today get to fly on demand, but with an electric airplane, it will change the way we look at aviation. Aviation is still a big deal today, we want to make it like a bus or train,” said Roei on a note of promise.
Secret of Success
Roei has worked both in a legacy-driven company like Boeing, and has also been at the helm of a startup BoldIQ, a global provider of dynamic real-time scheduling optimization software. Under his leadership, BoldIQ grew from a seed software startup to a profitable multi-million dollar SaaS company with customers worldwide and across industries.
There is a stark difference between companies like Boeing and a startup, shared Roei.
“The brand does open several doors for you and there are several resources available at your disposal, but the processes are very slow. Everything takes a lot of time. Speed is amazing in a startup, and so is the tolerance for risk. The big companies want to play it safe, they do not have too much innovation or creativity. Whereas, the decision-making in a startup is more fast and transparent,” he said.
Roei also pointed that in a field like aviation, it is important to have a good solution, be patient, and have money for that patience. But if there’s something that is non-negotiable, it is focus.
“Especially when you are a startup, you don’t have the money, it is easy to lose focus. You do a little bit of everything, and a lot of nothing. That’s why it is important to focus on your goal.,” he added.
Before signing off, he had a piece of advice for those who want to make things happen.
“The key thing is to see when you’re lucky, because everyone is lucky but not everyone sees it. To see when your luck comes, you have to identify and take the opportunity, “said Roei, signing off.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)