By Emma Nitzsche 

On Thursday, the commuter plane startup Eviation announced it had begun assembling the first battery-powered aircraft. The plane, called Alice, reached a firm design configuration and Eviation looks forward to making its voyage flight later this year.

Designed as a smaller plane, Alice can carry nine people, including a pilot. The aircraft is on track to have a range of about 500 miles.

Eviation partnered with various suppliers to deliver Alice’s parts. European aerospace supplier GKN will supply the wings and tail stabilizers. Multipast, a French company, will build Alice’s fuselage. Finally, magniX, a Wahington-based sister company, will deliver the motors and batteries.

Eviation chairman Roei Ganzarski said that the magniX brand has learned how to use and deploy batteries, specifically boosting performance for the smaller aircraft. Initially, the plan was for magniX to supply three 350 kW motors for each plane. Now, magniX will provide two 650 kW motors.

The Clermont group owns both Evation and magniX, and Ganzarski serves on the executive board for each company. The two startups are based in Snohomish County, north of Seattle. The location is also home to Boeing’s largest plant and close to 400 other aerospace supply companies.

The production of Alice was supposed to begin last year, but Eviation faced delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The current model includes several changes from earlier designs unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June 2019. For instance, the tail shifted from a V-shaped tail to a T-shaped tail.

Now, the aviation company will utilize a traditional fixed-wing design instead of a vertical takeoff, multi-rotor setup used by other aviation companies. Additionally, the landing gear has been rearranged into a “tricycle” configuration that is common for smaller planes. The design means that Alice will sit parallel to the tarmac, unlike the first prototype that sat nose-up.

“It’s a huge step, in that you look around at electric aviation and you see a lot of cool graphics and ‘orders,’ but you don’t actually see an airplane,” said Ganzarski. “But this real. It’s being built in our hangars, and we’re about to go fly it.”

Eviation faced some challenges in January 2020 when a lithium-ion battery pack used for a ground test caught fire and ruined the prototype. Alice hasn’t taken flight yet, but the prospect of her first voyage marks Eviation’s production recovery.