DHL Express orders 12 fully electric cargo planes

Image: DHL Express

The firm, which is Deutshe Post’s air cargo arm, announced the order for the ‘Alice’ model planes late on Tuesday (3 August). Each plane will be able to carry a little under 1,200kg of cargo and has a range of 440 nautical miles.

According to Eviation, the model is capable of charging to full range within 30 minutes. The charging process can be completed during loading.

DHL Express is planning to integrate the Alice planes into its fleet in 2024, testing them, initially, on routes across California, which are currently served by piston and turbine aircraft. The Alice model has not yet completed its first official flight outside of test conditions; Eviation has planned these flights for later this year.

DHL Express said in a statement that, following the integration of the planes in California, they could be added to additional feeder routes elsewhere with limited investment in supporting infrastructure. The firm also expects the planes to result in decreased maintenance and operational costs compared to traditional models.

“We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics, and, therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint,” DHL Express’ chief executive John Pearson said.

“On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions.”

To Pearson’s point, Deutsche Post DHL Group has committed to invest Є7bn (£5.95bn) in decarbonisation measures by 2030. Investments will be made in electric aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs); zero-emission vehicles for last-mile deliveries and technologies to reduce emissions associated with buildings.

The investment was announced earlier this year as part of an updated sustainability roadmap, which fleshed out a commitment made in 2017 – to become a net-zero business by 2050. Aside from the funding, which will entail a mix of opex and capex, the roadmap included a commitment to develop approved science-based emissions targets through to 2030. The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) recently outlined plans to increase its minimum target-setting requirements to 1.5C, phasing out ‘well-below 2C’ targets.

Ready for take-off?

While smaller electric aircraft are making headway – the Alice, if not used for cargo, could transport up to nine passengers – the commercialisation of an all-electric passenger plane seems to be some way off of technical and commercial maturity. As such, many businesses and nations are focussing their aviation decarbonisation plans on more efficient aircraft and SAFs.

The UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan outlined the Government’s approach to delivering a net-zero domestic aviation sector by 2040 and net-zero international aviation by 2050.  It broadly follows plans put forward by the UK Sustainable Aviation coalition, which this summer published new targets for members to reduce absolute net emissions by at least 15% by 2030 and 40% by 2040.

The coalition is positioning SAFs as the primary solution for the sector but has increased its support for other emerging technologies including hydrogen, fully electric and hybrid-electric aircraft. These technologies were largely absent from its controversial first roadmap to net-zero by 2050, published last year. The coalition represents most of the major businesses across the UK’s aviation value chain.

Airports and airlines outside of the UK, including Cathay Pacific Group, Qantas and American Airlines, are also prioritising SAFs.

Green groups have broadly criticised the industry’s reluctance to cap growth and to invest in lower-carbon solutions than SAFs. They have also voiced concerns about whether the SAF value chain will be capable of expanding rapidly enough, and in a sustainable manner, to meet all corporate and national goals. SAFs accounted for less than 1% of all fuel used on commercial passenger routes leaving from Europe in 2019.

Sarah George

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