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AIAA 2017-3283

AIAA AVIATION Forum


5-9 June 2017, Denver, Colorado
17th AIAA Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations Conference

Operational and Economic Feasibility of Electric Thin Haul


Transportation

Cedric Y. Justin1, Alexia Payan1, Simon Briceno2, and Dimitri N. Mavris3


Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, 30332-0150, United States

Thin haul transportation refers to the air transportation of passengers on very small capacity aircraft
over ultra-short distances. This envisioned form of transportation has the potential to fundamentally change
the way people commute and travel. Yet, thin haul air transportation has never experienced the kind of
success that was envisioned owing to operating hurdles and very high operating costs. The past decade has
nevertheless seen tremendous developments in the fields of aircraft manufacturing, electric propulsion, and
flight deck technologies enabling simplified vehicle operations. This convergence of technologies may prove to
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be a catalyst for thriving thin haul air transportation provided that aircraft manufacturers and operators can
fully exploit the potential for efficiency gains. In this research, the economics of electric thin haul air
transportation are reviewed to ensure that the promises for lower energy expenditures and for higher asset
utilization are met. In particular, a strategy to both recharge and swap batteries at airports without
impacting the schedule of commuter operators is proposed. This ensures that energy costs can be reduced by
at least 70% compared to current state of the art commuter aircraft.

I. Introduction
There are over 19,500 airports in the United States, of which slightly over a fourth are public facilities (FAA,
2016). Within this extensive network of public airports, only ten percent are used for public commercial air services
while the remaining airports are relatively underutilized. This imbalance strains the existing airport and airspace
infrastructure by concentrating most of the air traffic at a few airports while existing and available capacity is not
used at many others. The reason for this lies in the topology of air transportation in the United States. Indeed, most
of the demand is concentrated on relatively few routes, typically connecting major hubs across the country, and is
usually served by large commercial airlines using aircraft capable of handling large volumes of passengers.
Complementing these routes are routes with lower demand, traditionally served by regional airlines which operate
regional jets with smaller capacity. Finally, at the low end of the spectrum are routes with low demand and very
short trip distances (less than 200 nm) usually served by commuter operators (Harish, et al., 2016). These operators
connect smaller communities within the same region using small capacity aircraft (less than 9 passengers) like the
Cessna 402, Cessna Grand Caravan, or Pilatus PC-12.
This latter market segment, named the thin-haul market, presents many opportunities but many challenges for
current and prospective operators. Although the demand for each individual route may be limited, the cumulative
demand across all routes could be significant. This means that a potential may exist for significant revenues and
profitability if thin-haul routes could be served efficiently using commuter aircraft. This has however not been the
case in recent times and commuter operators serving thin haul routes have not, as a whole, experienced high growth
rates and significant profitability. Even worse, air transportation using small commuters seems to be declining year
after year with fewer and fewer routes being served.
The primary reason for this may be related to the high operating costs involved in catering to thin and
geographically-distributed demand. Fewer seats in smaller aircraft means reduced revenue potential, and therefore
limited ability to cover both the operating costs and the fixed costs, which can be overwhelming for smaller
operators. For instance, while global network airlines incur typical cost per available seat miles in the range of
US$0.11 to US$0.13, commuter operators such as Cape Air incur cost per available seat miles reaching US$0.47.
This is, in large part, due to the relative per-seat efficiency of the aircraft.

1
Postdoctoral Fellow, Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, AIAA Member
2
Research Engineer II, Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, AIAA Senior Member
3
S.P. Langley NIA Distinguished Regents Professor, Boeing Professor of Advanced Aerospace Analysis, Director
of the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, AIAA Fellow

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Copyright © 2017 by Cedric Y. Justin, Alexia Payan, Simon Briceno, Dimitri N. Mavris. Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., with permission.
The current research focuses on the estimation of the operating cost reduction and in particular the reduction in
energy expenditures when transitioning from a current commuter aircraft to an advanced state-of-the-art electric
aircraft featuring several game-changing technologies. Indeed, if a significant reduction in energy expenditures and
operating costs can be attained, then the massive latent demand for thin haul air transportation can be tapped and
wide-scale profitable operations may become realistic. In the second section of this paper, a review of the operating
performance of two baseline aircraft used throughout this study is presented. A modern yet conventional aircraft is
first presented, and a state-of-the-art derivative featuring distributed electric propulsion and a highly automated
flight deck allowing single-crew operations is presented next. In the third section of this paper, a battery swap and
recharge strategy is devised to optimize the recharge of batteries and ensure operators benefit from the low cost of
electricity. In the fourth section, the battery swap and recharge strategy is applied to two case-studies featuring two
different commuter operations. In the fifth section, general conclusions are discussed about the reduction in energy
expenditures when transitioning from a conventional fuel-powered commuter aircraft to a commuter featuring a
distributed electric propulsion system.

II. Concept Presentation


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Aircraft design usually results from an artistic balance between takeoff constraints (takeoff roll, balanced field
length), cruise performance constraints (speed and range), and landing constraints (stall speed). Unfortunately, even
if the aircraft spends most of its time in cruise, the efficiency is usually compromised by the maximum stall speed
constraint of 61 kt as per FAR Part 23. This results in an oversized wing for cruise and an airspeed for maximum
lift-to-drag ratio significantly lower than typical cruise speeds.
In order to alleviate these issues, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been studying
a new propulsion technology in which a series of small “high-lift” propellers driven by electric motors are
distributed along the leading edge of the wing, and two larger “cruise” propellers also driven by electric motors are
located at the wingtips. This Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) technology has several advantages. First, the
high-lift propellers accelerate the airflow over the wing at low speeds which enables a significant reduction in wing
area compared to more conventional designs by increasing the maximum lift coefficient. The smaller wing results in
a reduced drag at cruise speeds, thus shifting the maximum lift-to-drag ratio to higher speeds (Borer, et al.,
2016)(Patterson, Derlaga, & Borer, 2016). This, in turn, results in a higher wing loading which yields a more
comfortable ride as the aircraft is less susceptible to wind gusts. Second, the wingtip propellers interact beneficially
with the wingtip vortex, further reducing lift-induced drag at cruise conditions (Miranda & Brennan, 1986). Finally,
additional benefits come from the use of electric motors in lieu of internal combustion engines: electric propulsion
produces little to no greenhouse gases and benefits from a battery to shaft efficiency reaching 94% compared to a
fuel to shaft efficiency of about 26% for fuel-powered aircraft.
In order to estimate the reduction in energy expenditures when transitioning from a conventional fuel-powered
aircraft to an all-electric aircraft, a modern commuter aircraft powered with two internal combustion engines is
retrofitted with several electric motors powering small high-lift propellers distributed along the leading edge of the
wing, and two larger cruise propellers located at the tips of the wing.

A. Tecnam P2012 Traveller


As the only clean-sheet aircraft offered to commuter operators over the past decades, the P2012 Traveller is a
suitable baseline candidate to perform operational and economic analyses. Designed by Italian manufacturer
Tecnam, the aircraft features an all-metal structure with a nine-passenger cabin, a high wing, and a non-retractable
landing gear. It first flew in July 2016. Its propulsion system is composed of two Lycoming direct-drive six-
cylinder, horizontally opposed, turbocharged, air-cooled 375 HP piston engines, and two 2.1 m diameter MT-Prop
3-bladed constant speed propellers. Cape Air, the largest American commuter operator, is the launch operator of the
type with an order for up to 100 aircraft. Some of the main characteristics of the aircraft are summarized in Figure 1.

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Maximum Take-Off Weight (lb) 7,937
Operational Empty Weight (lb) 5,181
Zero Fuel Weight (lb) 7,672
Wing Area (ft2) 275
Wing Span (ft) 46
Aspect Ratio 8
Taper Ratio 0.71
Wing Root Airfoil NACA 23016
Wing Tip Airfoil NACA 23012
Washout (o) -1.5o
Figure 1: Description of the Tecnam P2012 Traveller
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B. Electro-Traveller
The primary objective of the retrofit task is to induce a large reduction in power consumption during cruise and
to reduce carbon dioxide emissions during flight. To do so, an advanced commuter aircraft featuring a distributed
electric propulsion system is constructed using the P2012T baseline aircraft.

1. Electric Aircraft Design


Like the final version of the NASA Maxwell X-57, the Electro-Traveller features 12 small high-lift propellers
distributed along the leading edge of the wing and two larger wingtip propellers as primary propulsive power
(Patterson, Derlaga, & Borer, 2016). The high-lift propellers are used during the take-off, approach, and landing
phases, while the wingtip propellers are used during the take-off, climb, cruise, and descent phases, and as needed
during the approach phase. The Electro-Traveller wing is sized assuming a maximum lift coefficient ,
consistent with that of the Maxwell X-57. The stall speed in landing configuration is taken to be 61 kt and the
maximum take-off weight is that of the baseline P2012T increased by about 10%. The wing is fitted with single
slotted flaps similar to the Maxwell X-57. The fuselage, horizontal tail, and vertical tail of the Electro-Traveller are
identical to those of the Tecnam P2012T. The retrofit aircraft includes a highly automated flight deck allowing
single-crew operations. Finally, the Electro-Traveller is fitted with a retractable landing gear in order to further
reduce the power consumption during cruise. Some of the main characteristics of the Electro-Traveller are
summarized in Figure 2.

Maximum Take-Off Weight (lb) 8,730


Operational Empty Weight (lb) 4,075
Wing Area (ft2) 175
Wing Span (ft) 44
Aspect Ratio 12
Taper Ratio 0.71
Wing Root Airfoil NACA 65(2)415
Wing Tip Airfoil NACA 65(2)415
Washout (o) -1.5o

Figure 2: Description of the Electro-Traveller

As shown on Figure 1 and Figure 2, the Electro-Traveller wing is approximately 1.6 times smaller than that of
the Tecnam P2012T. As a consequence, the Electro-Traveller will be cruising at a higher angle of attach and at a
higher lift coefficient. A change in the airfoil is thus required to ensure that the wing is optimized for the climb and
cruise conditions. The NACA 65(2)-415 (a=0.5) airfoil has been chosen to replace the original NACA 23016 and
NACA 23012 airfoils of the Tecnam P2012T. The new airfoil exhibits lower drag for a range of angles of attack
encompassing both the climb and cruise conditions. The NACA 65(2)-415 (a=0.5) airfoil drag polars for both the
take-off and cruise Reynolds numbers are depicted in Figure 3, along with typical cruise and climb lift coefficients
(Abbott, Doenhoff, & Jr., 1945).

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Figure 3: Electro-Traveller wing airfoil selection
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2. Drag Estimation
In order to estimate the drag of the Electro-Traveller, a notional adjusted parabolic drag polar is assumed such
that the total drag coefficient is given by . In this model, is the aircraft zero-lift
drag coefficient, is the aircraft lift coefficient, is the aircraft lift coefficient at which drag becomes
minimum, and k is the lift-induced drag constant: where AR is the wing aspect ratio and e is the
Oswald factor. The Oswald factor is estimated using statistical models (Kroo, 2001) (Raymer, 2006). In order to
calculate the aircraft zero-lift drag coefficient, a component drag build-up approach is used. In this approach, the
drag of each component of the aircraft is partitioned into flat plate skin friction, wetted area, interference, and form
factor effects (Gur, Mason, & Schetz, 2010), as shown in Equation 1. Additionally, to account for factors such as
surface roughness, rivets, bugs, antennas, and flap gaps, the aircraft zero-lift drag coefficient is increased by 20%, as
shown by the crud drag multiplier of 1.2 in Equation 1.

Equation 1

In Equation 1, is the equivalent flat plate skin friction coefficient (based on the Reynolds number) of aircraft
component i, is aircraft component i wetted area, is the wing reference area, is aircraft component i
form factor, and is aircraft component i interference factor. The form factors capture the effects of thickness or
fineness of aircraft components on pressure drag. The form factor of the wingtip nacelles was increased by 12% to
account for scrubbing drag, and that of the high-lift nacelles with folded propellers was increased by 29% based on
the work from Stoll and Mikić (Stoll & Mikic, 2016). The interference factors capture the interactions between the
different components of the aircraft such as the wing, the fuselage, the horizontal tail, the vertical tail, and the engine
nacelles. For the fuselage and wing interfaces, the interference factor is taken to be 1.0, whereas for the horizontal
and vertical tails, it is taken to be 1.05 based on suggestions from Raymer (Raymer, 2006). The engine nacelles
interference factor may be as high as 1.2.
The aircraft lift coefficient at minimum drag is estimated to be about 0.3 using NASA OpenVSP
software. Additionally, the reduction in lift-induced drag due to the use of the wingtip propellers during take-off,
climb, cruise, and descent is estimated to be between 7% and 11% using results provided in Miranda and Brennan
(Miranda & Brennan, 1986).
Finally, the contributions to drag of the extended landing gear and of the extended flaps (both parasitic drag and
additional lift-dependent drag) are estimated using models proposed by Roskam (Roskam, 1984) and Raymer
(Raymer, 2006) respectively.

3. Power Requirements and Propulsion System Sizing


The power required for each flight segment may be determined using the previous drag model along with the
design requirements summarized in Table 1 for a typical commuter mission. When applicable, these design
requirements are chosen to be similar to those of the Tecnam P2012T.

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Table 1: Electro-Traveller design requirements
Stall speed (landing configuration) Vs0 61 kt
Stall Speed (take-off configuration) Vs1 65 kt
Take-off ground roll distance 1,500 ft
Climb speed 135 kt
Maximum climb rate at sea level 1500 ft/min
Cruise altitude 8,000 ft
Cruise speed 185 kt
Descent speed 180 kt
Descent rate -700 ft/min
Approach speed 1.3*Vs0
Approach angle 3°
Landing speed 1.1*Vs0
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The power required for each flight segment of a typical commuter mission is depicted in Figure 4. The power
required to sustain a sea level climb rate of 1,500 ft/min is used to size the wingtip (cruise) motors and is shown in
Figure 4 as “Sea Level Climb”. The high-lift motors are sized by determining the power required to meet the design
stall speed in the landing configuration (full flaps at the maximum gross weight). This power is shown in Figure 4 as
“Vstall Requirement”. Power requirements calculations assume an inverter efficiency of 98%, an electric motor and
controller efficiency of 96%, and a propeller efficiency given by a third-degree polynomial in the advance ratio as
provided by Gudmundsson (Gudmundsson, 2014).

Cruising altitude: 8,000 ft


4

5
3

6
1 2 7

1 Taxi 3 Climb to cruise 5 Descent


7 Landing
2 Take-off 4 Cruise 6 Approach

Figure 4: Power requirements for a typical commuter mission

4. Battery Mass and Dimensions Estimations


Once the size (i.e. HP or kW) of the cruise and the high-lift motors are obtained from the power requirement
analysis, their weights are estimated using predictions of electric motors specific power provided by Launchpoint
Technologies4. The dimensions (length and diameter) of both types of motors are estimated using the specific
diameters and specific lengths from the new Siemens 350 HP electric motor (Siemens, 2015) and from the smaller
Joby motors5. This process is iterative as the dimensions of the electric motors determine the dimensions of the
nacelles which impact drag estimations which then determines the sizes of the electric motors. The power of the
internal combustion engines on the Tecnam P2012T provides a good, although slightly high, initial estimate for the
power of the cruise motors on the Electro-Traveller. Similarly, the power of the high-lift motors on the Maxwell X-
57 provides a good, although slightly low, initial estimate for the power of the high-lift motors on the Electro-
Traveller (Patterson, Derlaga, & Borer, 2016).

4
http://www.launchpnt.com/portfolio/transportation/electric-vehicle-propulsion
5
http://www.jobymotors.com/public/views/pages/products.php

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Next, in order to estimate the allowable battery weight, assuming a nine-passenger payload, a weights
estimation procedure was developed. It includes fixed weights for the unmodified Tecnam P2012T (maximum take-
off weight, operational empty weight, and unusable fuel weight), as well as weight estimates for the installed
internal combustion engines, the propellers, the fuel system, and the all-metal wing obtained from published data by
the respective manufacturers and empirical relationships provided in Raymer (Raymer, 2006). The procedure also
includes weight estimations for the new components of the Electro-Traveller, namely the weights of the composite
wing, the installed electric motors, the motor controllers, the cruise and high-lift propellers, the inverters, and the
electrical system. These estimations are obtained from publically available data on contemporary electric propulsion
related systems and contemporary propellers such as the carbon fiber MTV-7 propeller scaled to 3-bladed cruise
propellers and 5-bladed high-lift propellers.
An empty weight margin of 2% is added to account for any reinforcement structures that may be required to
sustain the weight of the battery. In addition, the extra weight due to the retractable landing gear is estimated to be
1.4% of the maximum take-off weight of the Electro-Traveller based on regression from Raymer (Raymer, 2006).
Finally, the allowable battery weight, assuming a nine-passenger payload is obtained by subtracting the new
operational empty weight estimate and the 9-pax payload to the maximum take-off weight of the Electro-Traveller.
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The battery weight that can be loaded onto the electric retrofit assuming a nine-passenger payload was estimated to
be about 2690 lb. This value is the one used in the analysis provided in section III. Using predictions for battery
technologies available in 2030, the storage volume required to host the battery may be determined along with the
battery capacity. It is assumed that the battery will be stored in the underbelly of the aircraft which also hosts the
main retractable landing gear and related systems.

C. Electro-Traveller Performance Analysis and Comparison with Baseline Aircraft


The analysis framework developed in the previous section and composed of the aircraft design module, the drag
estimation module, the power requirements and propulsion system sizing module, and the battery “sizing” module
enables us to derive some general performance characteristics of the Electro-Traveller aircraft.
For instance, Figure 5 shows the optimum cruise speed or Carson’s speed of 184 kt for a typical commuter
mission profile featuring a cruise segment at 8,000 ft. It also shows a best range airspeed of 146 kt at 8,000 ft for the
Electro-Traveller, an airspeed possibly used during an Instrument Flight Rule diversion to an alternate airport 50 nm
away. Finally, Figure 5 depicts a best endurance airspeed of 113 kt at 5,000 ft, an airspeed possibly used for the 45
minutes final reserves.

Optimum Cruise
Speed ~ 184 kt

Best Range
Speed = 146 kt

Best Endurance
Speed = 113 kt

Figure 5: Electro-Traveller optimum cruise speed, best range speed, and best endurance speed

Figure 6 depicts range diagrams for the Electro-Traveller featuring different battery specific energies and
different passenger payloads, assuming that passengers may be replaced by additional batteries. In these
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calculations, the propulsion system efficiencies are those discussed in section II.B.3 and we assume that 10% of the
battery is unusable. Range diagrams are provided for three cases: 1) the main commuter mission only (direct routing
and no wind), 2) the main commuter mission with a 50 nm mission to an alternate airport, and 3) the main commuter
mission with a 50 nm mission to an alternate airport and 45 minutes reserves. Results show that at full payload (nine
passengers) and for a battery specific energy of 350 Wh/kg achievable within the 2030 timeframe, the range of the
Electro-Traveller is 282 nm in the first case, 232 nm in the second case, and 161 nm in the third case.
No wind / Direct routing
282 nm
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No wind / Direct routing - 50 nm alt. No wind / Direct routing - 50 nm alt.


232 nm 161 nm & 45 min reserves

Figure 6: Range diagrams for the Electro-Traveller

Figure 7 shows the variations of lift-to-drag ratio as a function of airspeed at different cruising altitudes, for both
the Tecnam P2012T and the electric retrofit. As mentioned previously, two of the advantages of distributed electric
propulsion are to increase the speed at which the maximum lift-to-drag ratio occurs and to increase the lift-to-drag
ratio at typical cruise speeds. In our case, the speed corresponding to the maximum lift-to-drag ratio of the Electro-
Traveller is increased by 20 kt compared to that for the Tecnam P2012T. As for the lift-to-drag ratio for a typical
commuter mission at 8,000 ft and a cruise speed of 184 kt, it is almost doubled: from about 12 for the Tecnam
P2012T to slightly over 21 for the distributed electric propulsion retrofit.

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L/Dcruise=21.5

+20 kt

L/Dcruise=12.1
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Figure 7: Comparison of lift-to-drag ratios as a function of airspeed

Finally, Figure 8 displays the payload range diagrams of both the Electro-Traveller and the Tecnam P2012T at
8,000 ft cruising altitude and 184 kt. Results show that, at full passenger payload, the range of the Electro-Traveller
for a commuter mission not accounting for diversion and reserves is 75% of that of the Tecnam P2012T for a battery
specific energy density of 500 Wh/kg. At a more realistic battery specific energy density of 350 Wh/kg, the range of
the Electro-Traveller is only 52% of the range of the baseline Tecnam P2012T aircraft.

and no reserves No alternate and no reserves

Figure 8: Comparison of payload range diagrams

III. Energy Expenditure Optimization


As highlighted in the previous section, the battery gravimetric energy density limits the usable range of electric
aircraft which means that electric aircraft need to recharge their batteries at the different airport stations served
during a day of operations. Even for shorter routes not exceeding 50 nm, no more than three consecutive flights can
be performed on a single battery charge once instrument flights reserves are accounted for. Consequently, two
different and competing philosophies can be pursued by aircraft designers: either design an electric aircraft with
batteries large enough to avoid any disruption to the schedule during a day of operations (i.e. sizing for a schedule),
or design an electric aircraft with swappable batteries to again avoid any disruption to the schedule during a day of
operations (i.e. sizing for a mission with easily swappable batteries).
 Sizing the aircraft and battery for a schedule
In this scenario, the battery starts the day fully charged. During flights, the battery is discharged partially and
then recharged partially or fully depending on the time available during the ground turn-around time. Unfortunately,
commuter operators typically design schedules around extremely short turn-around times to increase aircraft
utilization. This may leave insufficient time to fully recharge the battery after a flight and therefore a cumulative net
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battery discharge is observed over a cycle comprising a flight and its subsequent ground turn-around time. Over
several cycles, the net discharge becomes significant and thus the aircraft designer sizes the battery so that the last
flight of the day can be completed with just enough energy. After this last flight, the battery is fully recharged during
the night.
 Sizing for a mission with easily swappable batteries
In this scenario, the aircraft and its batteries are sized such that the aircraft has enough range to fulfill one
design mission (possibly the most constraining mission in the entire network). However, the batteries can be
swapped on the ground when the turn-around time is too short to sufficiently recharge the batteries for the
subsequent flight. This design philosophy provides a technical solution for the short turn-around times typical of
commuter operators but increases the design complexity by requiring that the batteries be easily removable. This
means that batteries must be easily accessible and that the aircraft must feature a mechanical system enabling the
removal of potentially heavy batteries.

The first strategy (sizing for a schedule) looks very appealing due to its simplicity (battery swaps unnecessary)
and limited disruption to operators (no logistics involved with battery swaps, fork-lift equipment, and ground storage
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for batteries). Many tradeoff and sensitivity studies can be performed to select the optimum cruising speed (higher
cruise speeds yield longer ground times and therefore more time to recharge batteries), and to select the optimal
recharge power (higher recharge powers enable faster recharges on the ground which enable smaller on-board
batteries as the need to tank energy for the day is mitigated). Preliminary studies indicate nonetheless that this
strategy yields large and heavy batteries that compromise the efficiency and payload carrying capability of the
aircraft. This strategy relies also on high recharge powers to maximize the energy recharge on the ground. This
adversely impacts the cost of electricity and may not be sustainable due to the strain on the local electric grid.
Finally, this strategy may not be compatible with the distributed electric propulsion retrofit presented earlier since
the battery capacity is constrained by the maximum take-off weight (and maximum zero-fuel weight) of the original
structure of the Tecnam P2012T aircraft.
Owing to these considerations, the second strategy is retained for further analyses. The swappable batteries are
stored in battery pods fitted inside an underbelly bulge next to the main landing-gear of the Electro-Traveller.
Volumetric studies are performed to ensure that the available volume inside the bulge is sufficient to accommodate
the installed battery capacity using a battery volumetric energy density of 710 Wh/L. The underbelly bulge location
is retained because of its ease of access by ground crews for easy battery swaps and due to its proximity to the center
of gravity of the airplane.

A. Electricity Price Investigations


Research on electricity rates indicates that the cost of electricity not only varies from city to city and from
provider to provider, but is also highly dependent on how the electric energy is drawn from the grid. In most cases,
the electricity bill can be subdivided into three parts representing the three different businesses involved with
delivering the electric energy to the end-user: the Supply side, the Transmission side, and the Delivery side as
indicated in Figure 9. The Supply side corresponds to the business of producing electric energy and electric power
using coal, gas, fuel, uranium, or renewable energies. The Transmission side corresponds to the business of
transporting electric energy over long distances using high voltage power lines. The Delivery side corresponds to the
business of transporting electric energy over short distances along primary or secondary voltage power lines from
transmission substations to the end-user.
Each of these three businesses bills the end-user as a function of the amount of energy used and as a function of
the peak-power delivered – or likely to be delivered – over a month of operation. The energy part of the bill is
related to the cost of producing electricity from coal, gas, fuel, uranium, etc. The peak-power part of the bill is
related to the investments needed in an oversized electricity generation infrastructure (peaker gas turbines) or in an
oversized transformation and transmission infrastructure (substations) required to adequately serve the peak-power
demand of end-customers. Additional charges are often added on the Delivery side of the bill such as monthly user
charges (to administer the end-consumer account), grid access charges (to connect isolated places to the grid), as
well as taxes. All in all, the final bill of the end-customer is comprised of an energy part (per kWh), a peak-power
part (per kW), and a per-month part.

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Figure 9: Electricity rate determination flowchart

A database of electricity rate schedules has been created by collecting several hundred electricity schedules from
over thirty different utility providers corresponding to sixty five cities in New England, the Midwest, Montana,
California, Puerto Rico, and the Hawaiian Islands for the Fall of 2016. Analysis of these schedules indicates that
electricity rates are sensitive to the peak-power demand from the end-customer and that the peak-power part of the
electricity bill can be significant. This is reflected in the graph shown in Figure 10 describing the electricity price as
a function of the energy used for several peak-powers at the Boston airport. Assuming that fast-charging at 125 kW
is available at the Electro-Traveller entry into service, the peak-power lines represent the electricity costs when the
airport uses 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 fast chargers simultaneously. For instance, going from four to eight chargers while
drawing 100MWh over the course of a month results in a 50% increase in the cost of electricity (from 0.22 $/kWh to
0.34 $/kWh).

Figure 10: Electricity prices at Boston, MA for different energy prices and different peak-powers

To lower the cost of electricity at each and every station served by the commuter operator, the peak-power draw
from the grid needs to be minimized and thus an efficient battery swap and recharge strategy needs to be developed.
One way to reach this is by ensuring that batteries are continuously being charged since this maximizes the amount
of energy transferred to batteries while minimizing the peak-power. In this idealized scenario, the power profile
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becomes almost flat. This may be achieved by using an energy buffer or local energy storage able to supply extra
power in periods of higher electric power demand, and able to store electric energy in periods of lower electric
power demand. This is the approach followed by ChargePoint with the Power Cube6 concept. Another way to
approach this idealized scenario, adding nonetheless a layer of logistical complexity, is to use swappable spare
batteries to try to draw almost continuously from the grid at relatively low powers. Used batteries are then swapped
for newly recharged batteries as the aircraft land and park on the apron. This ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and
Recharge’ strategy is the approach investigated in Paragraph C. It is contrasted with a ‘Power-As-Needed’
benchmark strategy described in paragraph B.

B. Benchmark Strategy – Power-As-Needed


The ‘Power-As-Needed’ strategy does not optimize the peak-power draw from the grid. Instead, batteries are
recharged by fast chargers as soon as aircraft reach the gate with no consideration given to the number of chargers
needed or the price of electricity. Besides, access to fast chargers is always assumed to be possible. Battery swaps
are performed if and only if the state of charge of the on-board battery at the end of the ground turn-around time is
insufficient to complete the subsequent mission with appropriate reserves. A spare-battery management algorithm is
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also implemented to ensure that spare batteries are re-used as much as possible for subsequent flights. A description
of this strategy is proposed in Figure 11. Overall, this is a naïve strategy with as little operational complexity as
possible and only used to benchmark the ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge Strategy’ described next.

Figure 11: ‘Power-As-Needed’ benchmark strategy

C. Proposed Strategy – Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge Strategy


As much as fast chargers will help replenish the batteries of aircraft in a relatively short amount of time, the
electricity-price curves presented previously demonstrate that charging batteries at high power settings has a

6
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significant impact on the cost of electricity and thus has an adverse impact on the economics of commuter operators.
As a result, minimizing peak-power is paramount for an economically viable electric thin-haul aircraft and a strategy
that minimizes energy expenditures is warranted. Minimizing the peak-power draw from the grid is equivalent to
minimizing the number of fast-chargers required to recharge the aircraft batteries while still maintaining the
schedule integrity and not delaying any departure.
In the field of operations research, this is a rather typical scheduling problem where jobs are processed by one or
more machines in a shop and the objective is to minimize the number of machines required to perform all the jobs
(Horn, 1974), (Graham, Lawler, Lenstra, & Kan, 1979) (Labetoulle, Lawler, Lenstra, & Kan, 1984). Following this
analogy, the machines are fast chargers, the shops are airports where machines are located, and the jobs are battery
recharges. A recharge job has a release date which is the time an aircraft lands and its battery becomes available for
recharge, a processing time which is the time required to recharge appropriately the battery to complete the
subsequent mission with reserves, and finally a deadline which is the time by which the battery recharge needs to be
finished in order to be ready for a subsequent departure. A schedule optimization problem usually has an objective
function to be minimized and in this case, the objective is to minimize any disruption to the schedule. Scheduling
problems are notoriously difficult with many problems being NP hard (Lenstra, Kan, & Brucker, 1977). This is
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particularly true when dealing with many machines working in parallel on possibly thousands of jobs distributed
over several distinct shops. In order to solve this complex problem, some mild assumptions are made which
drastically facilitate the search for optimal solutions:
 No electric energy tankage in between airports served is allowed. This means that batteries are charged
just as needed to perform the subsequent mission with appropriate reserves. This also means that each
airport can be studied independently from each other. The network-wide scheduling problem can then
be split into many smaller-scale local scheduling problems.
 Battery swaps are performed at each and every station for each and every flight. This means that
batteries need to be easily swappable in order to be removed and mounted back swiftly.
 Preemption is allowed which means that an on-going battery recharge can be interrupted at any time to
enable a more pressing recharge job. This means that any recharge can be stopped and therefore no
delay is introduced to ensure that a fast-charger is available for a high-priority recharge i.e. a recharge
with a more pressing deadline.
 A lateness-based objective function is retained where the lateness is defined as the delay of a battery
recharge job or the difference between the time the processing is finished and the recharge deadline.
The maximum lateness is defined next as the maximum of the lateness across all jobs to be performed
at one airport and therefore, the maximum lateness is to be minimized.
 A buffer time is added between the time the aircraft arrives at the gate (or ramp) and the time the battery
is ready for recharge. This buffer time accounts for the time required to physically remove the battery
from the aircraft and to connect the battery to the fast charger.
 Another buffer time is added between the time the battery is sufficiently recharged and the time the
aircraft is ready to leave the gate or apron. This accounts for the time required to physically mount the
battery on the aircraft and connect the battery to the aircraft systems.

Under these simplifying assumptions and using the three-field terminology of Graham et al. (Graham, Lawler,
Lenstra, & Kan, 1979), the power-optimized battery swap strategy becomes a scheduling
optimization problem. This scheduling problem has been shown to be easier to solve once split into two simpler
problems: a schedule feasibility problem and a schedule design problem (Martel, 1981). The goal of the schedule
feasibility study is to determine whether a schedule can be constructed using the resources available (fast chargers)
and the constraints (release dates, deadlines, and processing times). The output of the schedule feasibility study is
the value of the objective function (maximum lateness) used to determine if the schedule is acceptable (feasible,
limited delays) or not acceptable (infeasible, too many delays). The goal of the schedule design is to construct a
schedule detailing the activity of each fast charger throughout the day once the feasibility has been proven. The
output of the schedule design is an activity chart detailing when the fast chargers are used and which battery is being
recharged, as well as an activity chart for each battery detailing when the battery is being recharged.

Schedule Feasibility
Martel (Martel, 1981) was the first to provide a solution to the feasibility of a scheduling problem featuring
multiple jobs indexed by i, multiple parallel machines indexed by m, release dates ri for each job, deadlines di for

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each job, and processing times pi for each job. It is based on a polymatroidal network-flow problem and yields a
polynomial-time algorithm to minimize the maximum lateness objective function denoted Lmax. The scheduling
problem is represented using a network, and a network-flow algorithm is used to estimate the maximum flow that
can be pushed along the vertices of the network and to determine the feasibility of a schedule. The maximum-flow
algorithms of Ford-Fulkerson (Ford & Fulkerson, 1956) and Edmonds-Karps (Edmonds & Karp, 1972) are used
next to determine the maximum flow in the network. For each airport in the network, the maximum flow is
computed and compared to the aggregated amount of processing time required to charge all the batteries at the
airport. If the maximum flow is equal to this aggregate amount of processing time, the schedule is feasible. If the
maximum flow is less than this aggregate amount of processing time, the schedule is not feasible and some
constraints must be relaxed (delay departures, increase number of spare batteries, increase number of chargers). The
network-flow representation of the scheduling problem as well as the linear-programming formulation of the
maximum-flow problem are represented in Figure 12 respectively in exhibits (a) and (b).

Maximize:
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Subject to the following constraints:


Flow Positivity Flow Conservation Capacity
Constraints: Constraints: Constraints:

(a) (b)
Figure 12: Network-flow representation of the scheduling problem in exhibit (a), linear-
programming representation of the maximum-flow problem in exhibit (b)

The feasibility study indicates whether a schedule can be constructed given a number of fast-chargers and a
number of spare batteries. Intuitively, as the number of spare batteries increases, the number of fast-chargers is
expected to decrease. Indeed, with zero spare battery, the on-board batteries probably need to be recharged
immediately upon landing and thus many batteries could end-up being charged concurrently. This is particularly true
during the early morning and late afternoon waves of arrivals and departures. Conversely, with as many spare
batteries as there are departures, spare batteries could probably be recharged evenly throughout the day using a
smaller number of fast-chargers.
Determining the minimum number of fast-chargers is of interest as it minimizes the peak-power drawn from the
grid and the resulting electricity cost. Unfortunately, the network-flow representation and the Edmond-Karps
algorithm solving for the maximum flow do not yield any indication as to the minimum number of fast-chargers
required to construct a feasible schedule. Instead, they merely indicate whether a schedule can be constructed using
a given number of spare batteries and chargers. As a consequence, a wrapper algorithm is designed to iterate on both
the number of fast-chargers and the number of spare batteries needed at each airport. For each airport, the output of
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these computations is a locus of points representing the number of batteries required for a given number of fast-
chargers. In some ways, this locus is a Pareto front separating the domain where the schedule is feasible as long as
enough spare batteries (or fast-chargers) are available, and the domain where the schedule is not feasible owing to a
lack of spare batteries (or fast-chargers).
Once Pareto fronts of feasible solutions are generated for each airport, a further refinement consisting in
reducing the power draw from fast-chargers can be implemented. For instance, a quiet airport with limited traffic
and long aircraft turn-around times (i.e. with aircraft staying idle for a significant amount of time) may not require
fast recharges of batteries. This airport may instead benefit from charging at a reduced power setting which
decreases the peak-power and reduces the cost of electricity. Consequently, reduced charge power settings are
iteratively tried until the schedule becomes no longer feasible. A detailed description of the wrapper algorithm and
charge power optimization is presented in Figure 13.
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Figure 13: Feasibility verification and optimality frontier generation

Schedule Construction
After the feasibility of a schedule is demonstrated, the actual construction of the battery recharge schedule is
straightforward. On the one hand, the network-flow representation indicates which battery recharge can be
performed during which time interval (indicated by the presence of an edge linking a job node to a time-interval
node). On the other hand, the maximum-flow computation indicates how much processing of a battery recharge job
is performed during a specific time interval (indicated by the used capacity of an edge linking a job node to a time-
interval node). Constructing the battery recharge schedule consists in queuing the jobs that are performed during any
given time-interval and repeating the procedure for each and every time-interval. For this purpose, any type of
queuing procedure can be used (first-in first-out, earliest deadline first, etc.).

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IV. Application Using Two Contrasting Commuter Operations
The ‘Power-As-Needed’ and the ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge’ strategies are applied next to
two case-studies featuring two different commuter operations. The first one uses the network of Cape Air, while the
second one uses the network of Mokulele. On the one hand, Cape Air is the largest commuter operator in the United
States operating 525 daily flights primarily to 43 airports in the New England area as well as in Puerto Rico,
Montana, and Missouri with a fleet of 93 aircraft, mostly twin-engine piston-powered Cessna 402 (Cape Air, 2015).
On the other hand, Mokulele is a much smaller operator flying a fleet of 11 single-engine turboprop Cessna 208
aircraft on 120 daily flights mostly in the Hawaiian Islands. A depiction of their networks is provided in Table 2.
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Table 2: Contrasting operations for Cape Air and Mokulele

A. Assumptions
A list of the main assumptions underpinning the two case-studies is given in Table 3. These assumptions are
based on a 2030 entry into service for the retrofit Electro-Traveller.
Table 3: Underpinning Assumptions
Battery mounting buffer time 2 min Charger max power setting 125 kW
Battery removal buffer time 2 min Charger efficiency 90%
Cruise power 65% Charger cost $100,000
Alternate diversion distance 50 nm Battery pack gravimetric energy density 350 Wh/kg
Alternate diversion airspeed 146 kt Battery pack volumetric energy density 710 Wh/L
Final reserve after diversion 45 min Battery pack specific cost 125 $/kWh
Final reserve airspeed 113 kt Discount factor 8.1%

B. Aircraft Suitability
The suitability of the retrofitted Electro-Traveller platform is first verified by analyzing the distribution of flight
distances, and the distribution of turn-around times as highlighted in Table 4. The distribution of flight distances is
adjusted with an extra 6% over the great circle distance for Cape Air and an extra 28% over the great circle distance
for Mokulele. This accounts for the fact that aircraft do not fly the shortest distance but are instead vectored by air
traffic control and need to avoid obstacles. Owing to the shorter flights of Mokulele, a greater part of the flight is
spent flying departure and approach procedures and avoiding large mountains which prevent direct routings. Under
these assumptions, slightly over 88% of the flights currently operated by Cape Air and 100% of the flights currently
operated by Mokulele can be flown by the new aircraft once a 50 nm diversion to an alternate (flown at best range
speed) and a 45 minute final reserve (flown at best endurance speed) are accounted for.
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Table 4: Flight distance and turn-around time distributions for Cape Air (left) and Mokulele (right)

100%
88%
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43 min 23 min

37 min 19 min

Investigating the schedules of these two operators also reveals staggering differences in the ground turn-around
times: while the median turn-around time for Cape Air is about 43 minutes, the median turn-around time for
Mokulele is only 23 minutes. When adjusting for the long overnights, the median day operations turn-around times
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decrease to 37 minutes and 19 minutes respectively. These short turn-around times present significant challenges for
the charging of batteries.

C. Benchmark Strategy – ‘Power-As-Needed’


The six graphs in Table 5 represent the power demand profiles over two days of operations at two busy stations
for both Cape Air (Nantucket ACK and Boston BOS airport) and Mokulele (Kona KOA and Molokai MKK airport)
as well as the peak-powers attained at the busiest stations in the networks of Cape Air and Mokulele. For these busy
airports, the significant amount of traffic leads to multiple simultaneous battery charges and thus very high peak-
powers which may not be sustainable. For instance, the peak-power exceeds 1MW in Nantucket and in Boston
which is the order of magnitude of the demand of approximately one thousand households. In some other cases, the
peak-power demand is not as high but will significantly stress the local electric grid infrastructure. For instance, the
peak-power at Molokai airport is 517 kW but the total generation capability for the entire island of Molokai is only
about 12 MW (Power Facts, 2017).
As expected for the ‘Power-As-Needed’ strategy, most of the demand occurs during the day and in particular in
the mid-morning and late afternoon when waves of aircraft and batteries arrive after their first morning commute
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flight and their late afternoon commute flight. In addition, the power profile graphs indicate that the fast chargers are
not used at night and remain idle.

Table 5: Power demand profiles and peak-powers for the busiest stations of Cape Air (left) and Mokulele
(right) using the ‘Power-As-Needed’ benchmark strategy

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PEAK POWER (kW) PEAK POWER (kW)
ACK 1,033 HNL 478
ALB 417
AUG 139 HNM 139
BOS 1,689 JHM 517
EWB 517
HPN 339 JRF 139
HYA 717
KOA 556
LEB 139
MSS 139 LUP 139
MVY 656
MKK 517
OGS 139
PVC 417 MUE 139
PVD 278
RKD 278 OGG 556
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0 250 500 750 1,000 1,250 0 125 250 375 500 625
kW kW

The set of graphs in Table 6 displays the three elements making up the cost of electricity as well as the final
electricity price paid by the end-customer. For both operators, the demand part of the electricity price is very
significant: it is on average 45% for both Cape Air and Mokulele. This is a huge penalty that both operators have to
pay because of the way the electric energy is being drawn from the grid and because of the peakiness of the electric
demand. The network-wide weighted-average cost of electricity is 0.19 $/kWh for Cape Air and 0.38 $/kWh for
Mokulele. This difference is mostly a reflection of the higher cost of electricity in the Hawaiian Islands compared to
the United States mainland. Finally, the average number of batteries is 1.5 batteries per aircraft for Cape Air and 3.6
batteries per aircraft for Mokulele. The difference in the number of batteries reflects the shorter ground turn-around
times for Mokulele which induce many more battery swaps with fully recharged spares.

Table 6: Splitting the electricity price into the energy, demand, and miscellaneous components and final
electricity price at the busiest stations of Cape Air (left) and Mokulele (right) using the benchmark strategy
ELECTRICITY PRICE SPLIT ($/kWh) ELECTRICITY PRICE SPLIT ($/kWh)
ACK 0.12 0.02 0.00 HNL 0.15 0.22 0.01

ALB 0.04 0.05 0.01


HNM 0.31 0.73
AUG 0.08 0.02 0.00

BOS 0.09 0.11 0.00 JHM 0.28 0.11 0.01


EWB 0.12 0.13 0.02
JRF 0.17 0.04 0.00
HPN 0.04 0.46

HYA 0.12 0.08 0.01


KOA 0.22 0.10 0.01
LEB 0.15 0.04 0.00

MSS 0.04 0.06 0.02 LUP 0.30 0.90

MVY 0.12 0.08 0.01


MKK 0.30 0.12 0.01
OGS 0.04 0.05 0.02
PVC 0.13 0.14 0.01 Energy Share
MUE 0.25 0.11 0.01 Energy Share
($/kWh)
PVD 0.09 0.08 0.03 ($/kWh)
RKD 0.08 0.02 0.00 OGG 0.28 0.13 0.01

$/kWh
$0.00 $0.10 $0.20 $0.30 $0.40 $/kWh $0.00 $0.20 $0.40 $0.60

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ELECTRICITY PRICE ($/kWh) ELECTRICITY PRICE ($/kWh)
ACK 0.14 HNL 0.38
ALB 0.10
HNM 1.09
AUG 0.10

BOS 0.21 JHM 0.39


EWB 0.27

HPN 0.51
JRF 0.22

HYA 0.20
KOA 0.33
LEB 0.19

MSS 0.11 LUP 1.39


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MVY 0.21
MKK 0.42
OGS 0.11

PVC 0.28 MUE 0.37

PVD 0.20
OGG 0.42
RKD 0.10
$0.00 $0.20 $0.40 $0.60
$0.00 $0.10 $0.20 $0.30 $0.40 $/kWh $/kWh

D. ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge’


The six graphs in Table 7 represent the power demand profiles over two days of operations at two busy stations
for both Cape Air and Mokulele, as well as the peak-powers attained at the busiest stations in the two networks
using the ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge’ strategy. The ‘Power-As-Needed’ strategy is displayed in
blue for comparison purposes while the new power-optimized strategy is displayed in red.
The peak-power demands at the various stations are drastically reduced, averaging a 55% decrease for the
networks of Cape Air and Mokulele. At many quieter airports, the peak power reduction reaches over 75% since
these airports may not need a fast charger and slow charging using one spare battery is more economical. Overall,
the demand is less peaky as shown in the various power profiles displayed. The maximum power attained at each
airport is reached several times during the day which makes for a more efficient use of the peak-power demand
penalty paid by the customer. In addition, the chargers are used significantly more at night (late evenings) in order to
recharge the batteries.

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Table 7: Power demand profiles and peak-powers for the busiest stations of Cape Air (left) and Mokulele
(right) using the ‘Power-As-Needed’ (blue) and the ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap’ strategies (red)
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PEAK POWER (kW) PEAK POWER (kW)


ACK 1,033 478
694 HNL
417 278
ALB 125 139
AUG 139 HNM
83 28
BOS 1,689 517
1,111 JHM
517 278
EWB 125 139
HPN 339 JRF
111 83
HYA 717 556
278 KOA
139 250
LEB 97
139 139
MSS LUP
56 28
MVY 656
417 517
139
MKK
OGS 278
56 POWER-AS-NEEDED
417 139
PVC 125 MUE POWER OPTIMIZED
28
278 POWER-AS-NEEDED
PVD 125 556
278 POWER OPTIMIZED OGG
RKD 278
125
0 250 500 750 1,000 1,250 0 125 250 375 500 625
kW
kW

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The set of graphs in Table 8 displays the three elements making up the cost of electricity as well as the final
electricity price paid by the end-customer using the new power-optimized strategy. As can be observed, the demand
part of the electricity price is no longer dominant, representing only 25% of the cost of electricity on average for
Cape Air and Mokulele. The network-wide weighted-average cost of electricity decreases to 0.14 $/kWh for Cape
Air and 0.31 $/kWh for Mokulele. This represents a decrease in the cost of electricity of 23% for Cape Air and 19%
for Mokulele when compared to the ‘Power-As-Needed’ benchmark strategy. Finally, the average number of
batteries reaches 1.8 batteries per aircraft for Cape Air and 3.4 batteries per aircraft for Mokulele. This is not very
different from the battery number requirements obtained with the benchmark strategy.

Table 8: Splitting the electricity price into the energy, demand, and miscellaneous components, and final
electricity price at the busiest stations of Cape Air (left) and Mokulele (right) using the ‘Power-Optimized
Battery Swap and Recharge’ strategy
ELECTRICITY PRICE SPLIT ($/kWh) ELECTRICITY PRICE SPLIT ($/kWh)
ACK 0.12 0.01 0.00 HNL 0.15 0.09 0.01
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ALB 0.040.02 0.01


HNM 0.31 0.06 0.02
AUG 0.08 0.01 0.00

BOS 0.09 0.07 0.00 JHM 0.28 0.07 0.01


EWB 0.12 0.04 0.01

HPN JRF 0.17 0.03 0.00


0.04 0.19 0.01

HYA 0.13 0.04 0.01


KOA 0.22 0.05 0.01
LEB 0.15 0.03 0.00

MSS 0.04 0.03 0.00 LUP 0.37 0.12 0.03

MVY 0.13 0.04 0.00


MKK 0.30 0.06 0.01
OGS 0.04 0.03 0.00
Energy Share ($/kWh)
PVC 0.13 0.03 0.01 MUE 0.25 0.03 0.01 Demand Share ($/kWh)
PVD 0.12 0.05 0.01 Energy Share ($/kWh) Other Share ($/kWh)
Demand Share ($/kWh) OGG 0.28 0.06 0.01
RKD 0.08 0.01 0.00 Other Share ($/kWh)
$0.00 $0.10 $0.20 $0.30 $/kWh $0.00 $0.20 $0.40 $0.60 $/kWh

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ELECTRICITY PRICE ($/kWh) ELECTRICITY PRICE ($/kWh)
ACK 0.14 0.38
0.13 HNL
0.10 0.25
ALB 0.07
1.09
AUG 0.10 HNM
0.09 0.39
BOS 0.21
0.17 0.39
JHM
0.27 0.35
EWB 0.17
0.51 0.22
HPN JRF
0.24 0.21
HYA 0.20
0.18 0.33
KOA
LEB 0.19 0.28
0.18
0.11 1.39
MSS 0.07 LUP
0.53
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MVY 0.21
0.17 0.42
0.11 MKK
OGS 0.37
0.07
PVC 0.28 0.37
0.17 MUE
0.29
PVD 0.20
0.17 POWER-AS-NEEDED 0.42 POWER-AS-NEEDED
0.10 OGG POWER OPTIMIZED
RKD 0.09 POWER OPTIMIZED 0.35

$0.00 $0.10 $0.20 $0.30 $0.40 $/kWh $0.00 $0.20 $0.40 $0.60 $/kWh

E. Economic Viability – Energy Expenditures


In the previous section, the cost of electricity is determined at each station in the networks of Cape Air and
Mokulele. To estimate the savings achieved by retrofitting a fleet of commuter aircraft with a distributed electric
propulsion system, the retail price of AVGAS and JetFuel at each airport is also retrieved.7 For the network of Cape
Air, the average retail price of AVGAS is US$5.70/GAL which is equivalent to 17 c/kWh. For the network of
Mokulele, the average retail price of Jet Fuel is US$5.31/GAL which is equivalent to 13 c/kWh. These numbers
represent the retail price and do not account for any discount these two operators may get owing to the volume of
fuel purchased. The energy expenditure part of the average trip cost for both the original Tecnam P2012T and the
electric retrofit are compared next. This metric enables meaningful comparisons as it takes into account both the cost
of energy and how efficiently the energy is used by the aircraft. These energy expenditures are highlighted in Table
9 and the reductions are staggering: for Cape Air, the trip cost energy expenditure is reduced by 83% to 0.29 $/nm,
while it is reduced by 70% to 0.76 $/nm for Mokulele. This indicates that, everything else remaining identical, an
aircraft featuring an electric propulsion system is very competitive with a traditional fossil-fuel powered aircraft if
care is given to how electricity is drawn from the electric grid.

Table 9: Energy expenditures comparison


Current Aircraft DEP Retrofit
(C402 or C208) Electro-Traveller
Cape Air
1.72 $/nm 0.29 $/nm
(AVGAS 5.70 $/GAL)
Mokulele
2.65 $/nm 0.76 $/nm
(JetFuel 5.31 $/GAL)

7
Retrieved in April 2017 on www.airnav.com

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V. Conclusions
In order to transition from a fleet of fossil-fuel powered commuters to a fleet featuring a zero-emission
propulsion system, the new aircraft must be economically competitive so as to provide incentives for operators to
take the risk and retrofit or renew their fleet. Similarly, if thin haul air transportation is to be revitalized, a drastic
reduction in direct operating costs is required in order to stimulate the latent demand. The main objective of this
research is to assess whether an aircraft featuring a distributed electric propulsion architecture can be operated on a
commuter network without disrupting the routing or the schedule, while being competitive from an energy
expenditure standpoint. Over the course of this research, one strategy has been formulated to solve the challenges
associated with recharging large capacity batteries during the short ground turn-around times typical of commuters.
The proposed ‘Power-Optimized Battery Swap and Recharge’ strategy relies on both battery swaps and an
optimization of the battery recharge schedule to minimize the peak-power demand and therefore the cost of
electricity. Using this strategy, the authors show that the cost of electricity can be reduced by over 20% when
compared to a benchmark ‘Power-As-Needed’ strategy. In addition, the overall energy expenditures are shown to be
reduced by over 70% over comparable fossil-fuel powered aircraft on a trip cost basis.
Further improvements to this research will include the time-of-day aspect of electricity rates in order to provide a
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more accurate estimate of the cost of electricity. Indeed, many electricity providers require that commercial
operators be enrolled in a time-of-day electricity schedule which incentivizes energy consumption during periods of
low demand, usually at night. As a consequence, some battery charges may be shuffled to later at night when the
cost of electricity is lower.

Acknowledgments
The authors would like to acknowledge the help of Cape Air and Daniel A. Wolf in providing a detailed schedule
and routing for the Cape Air fleet of aircraft. The views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors
and do not reflect the official position of Cape Air.

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