Local aviation startup MagniX, which is developing electric motors to replace the gas turbine engines on commuter airplanes carrying up to 40 passengers, announced Tuesday it is consolidating its operations at a new facility in Everett.
Formerly headquartered in Redmond, with engineering centers there and in Australia, MagniX has moved its entire workforce — currently about 50 people — to the new facility on Seaway Boulevard, just north of Boeing’s Everett jet assembly plant. The new 40,000-square-foot Everett building will house MagniX headquarters as well as engineering, production, testing and delivery of its motors.
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski, a former Boeing executive, said in an interview that the consolidation was long planned but was accelerated by the pandemic-driven downturn affecting potential customers. To cut operating and staffing costs, MagniX shuttered its engineering center in Australia and laid off most of the 30 employees.
Ten of those Australian staff have relocated to Everett. Ganzarski said the company has hired 11 people in the last couple of months and expects to grow to “at least 60” in the coming months.
That will bring the company back up to where it was last year, though now all in Everett instead of equally divided between Washington state and Australia.
Zero emission flight
Electric-powered flight technology is not considered viable for Boeing-size airplanes. MagniX instead focuses on developing the propulsion system for all-electric, zero-emission flights on small commuter aircraft that fly routes shorter than 1,000 miles.
Ganzarski cites compelling economics, claiming that electric aviation should cost about $300 per flight hour versus $1,500 per flight hour on current gas-powered planes of that size.
The MagniX electric motor technology was initially developed and the company founded in Australia in 2009. Only one of that original team of scientists remains at MagniX, David Sercombe, who is the chief engineer for propulsion.
Initially, MagniX plans to retrofit existing small airplanes, taking off the turbine engines and replacing them with its cylindrical electric motors. The system depends on battery makers supplying suitably light and powerful batteries to provide electricity for the motors.
And after MagniX did a test flight on a Cessna Caravan last May, Sydney Seaplanes, based in Sydney, Australia, announced in December it will work to certify and convert its fleet of those aircraft to electric power.
Ganzarski said MagniX expects to have its motors certified for aviation use by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by the first half of next year. He said the five-passenger de Havilland Beaver could be certified to carry passengers by late 2022 and the nine- to 11-passenger Cessna Caravan in 2023.
Sister company sets up in Arlington
However, MagniX sees an eventual bigger market for its motors in all-new electric aircraft and is working with several startups developing such designs.
One is sister company Eviation, of which Ganzarski is now chairman. Both MagniX and Eviation are funded by the Singapore-based Clermont investment group owned by New Zealand-born billionaire Richard Chandler.
Eviation has designed, though it hasn’t yet flown, an all-electric plane called Alice that can carry nine passengers and has a range of 440 miles.
Late last year, it agreed to lease three hangars at Arlington Municipal Airport, about 20 miles north of Everett, where it plans to assemble its first planes this year and conduct ground and flight tests and, eventually, deliveries.
Ganzarski said Eviation now has about 30 employees and is continuing to grow.
In January a year ago, a lithium ion battery pack used for a ground test caught fire and destroyed the fuselage of the prototype Alice.
Ganzarski said such setbacks are to be expected when developing new technology.
“It’s part of the process,” he said. “They learned real hard lessons.”
He said Alice should have its first flight this year and Eviation will build two more test planes for a two-year flight test and certification program. It should be ready to deliver in 2023, he said.
Only one Eviation customer has been publicly identified: Cape Air, a commuter operator in the Northeast U.S. serving routes such as Boston to Martha’s Vineyard and New York to Nantucket.
Ganzarski said MagniX is also working to supply electric motors to U.K.-based Faradair, which is developing a tri-wing Bio Electric Hybrid Aircraft designed to carry about 18 passengers.
And MagniX will also supply its motors to Universal Hydrogen of Los Angeles, Calif., a startup led by Airbus alumni that aims to convert the de Havilland Canada DHC-8-300, commonly known as the Dash 8, into an all-electric version carrying about 40 passengers.
The idea is that MagniX motors will replace the turbines on the Dash 8 wings while hydrogen fuel cells instead of batteries will replace the jet fuel system to provide the electricity.
All of these startups are in development, still years from taking in revenue from tickets sold to passengers. Even the retrofitted electric versions of the Beaver and the Caravan are still some way off.
Yet even as the pandemic has reduced air travel worldwide, Clermont is continuing to pour investment into MagniX and Eviation in the expectation that small airplanes will prove an ideal application for electric power and that such short-hop aircraft will be among the first to recover once the pandemic eases.
Ganzarski said Clermont is “private and closely held” and won’t disclose the extent of its investment.
“Aerospace is not a cheap proposition,” he said. “It requires financial patience.”