The electric aviation market is set to explode. The numbers for the expense versus benefit are getting better everyday – and only gets better when you start to look at another impending doom: 100 low lead aviation fuel. Looking at general aviation aircraft, the overwhelming majority of aircraft with less than 6 seats are piston aircraft that require 100 low lead fuel. Environmentalists, along with fuel manufacturers hate this stuff.
Nobody likes 100 low lead aviation fuel, but unfortunately no other drop in alternative exists. Piston engines require a high octane fuel to get the horsepower to produce the horsepower relative to their lightweight. Unfortunately, engine manufacturers have just been unable or perhaps unwilling to develop an aircraft engine that is more than 120 horsepower without the use of 100 low lead fuel. The 100 low lead fuel constitutes approximately 3% of the entire gasoline market. Additionally, attempts at producing a diesel powered engine have proven to be an utter failure. Just take a read about the Thielert engines: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thielert_Centurion With such a small market the consequence is that 100 low lead is very expensive. If you find 100 low lead fuel for under $5 per gallon that's a steal, and factor into the equation you are burning approximately 10 gallons per hour and you can see that it becomes a pretty expensive day. Because 100 low lead is antiquated, contains lead, is difficult to procure in large parts of the world no one is really excited to make significant capital investments. This means the majority of aircraft engines in piston aircraft produced in 2022 are using engines developed in the 1970s – some of them in fact were developed in the 1940s. But that's not all: you also have to look at an engine overhaul. Most engines in piston aircraft cost about $30,000 to overhaul and at best you can expect to get about 2000 hours of operation. Do the math and you can see that every hour costs you approximately an additional $15 towards overhaul, and that assumes the engine will make it to the overhaul - which of course is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. Electric motors solve all of these problems. Gone are the worries about the fuel, overhaul time is pretty much unlimited, and maintenance such as oil, magnetos, fuel contamination, filters, etc. are all removed from the equation. Range has been the big kicker. Unfortunately, we do not see electric aircraft that are able to fly more than 500 miles. But in the world of general aviation, that's not really a problem. My old Mooney M20C had a range of – you guessed it, 500 miles. There is also another incredible benefit – general aviation aircraft spend most of their lives sitting on the ground in a barn known as a hangar. This hangar has an incredible benefit: surface area. In short, 95% of aircraft fly less than one time per week. This means that if you put solar panels on top of a hangar and then you hooked to the airplane up to those solar panels you could fly for free. In short, this is an absolute no-brainer.