DHL Orders 12 Electric Cargo Planes

Each plane will carry up to 2,600 pounds.

Twelve zero-emission eCargo aircraft will form world’s first electric Express network


Even as electrification has taken off in everything from cars to lawn care, the idea of removing fossil fuels from such an energy-intensive—and weight-sensitive—application as aviation felt like a far-fetched dream. Yet slowly, we have started to see promising signs for electric commercial flight—at least on short-haul routes. 

The latest development is admittedly cargo-based and comes from DHL Express. The company has contracted with Seattle-area-based Eviation to order 12 of its fully electric Alice eCargo planes. Perhaps most surprising is Eviation expects to deliver the Alice electric aircraft to DHL Express as early as 2024.

“We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics,” said John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express. “Therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint. 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. Founded in 1969, DHL Express has been known as a pioneer in the aviation industry for decades. We have found the perfect partner with Eviation as they share our purpose, and together we will take off into a new era of sustainable aviation.”

Here are some of the key details from the press release accompanying the announcement: 

  • The plane can be flown by a single pilot
  • It will carry up to 2,600 pounds
  • Charging will require 30 minutes or less per flight hour
  • The maximum range will be 440 nautical miles 

The company is planning to deploy these aircraft on routes currently serviced by piston and turbine aircraft and, because the planes will have fewer moving parts, is projecting significant cost savings in terms of reliability and reduced maintenance costs. 

Obviously, a cargo aircraft carrying 2,600 pounds is by no means a drop-in replacement for the vast majority of commercial flights that are currently driving up our carbon emissions. (According to Eviation, the passenger-version carries just 9 passengers.) It is, however, a significant step forward if it can be brought to scale. 

As Vox’s Dave Roberts noted on Twitter, we’ve heard many times before that there’s little we can do about “hard to abate” industries like aviation—and yet progress is being made:  

And even if electrification is limited to short-haul routes and smaller planes, for now, let’s not forget that technological innovation can be combined with changes to the service model. We’ve already seen, for example, start-ups like Zunum suggesting that hybrid-electric aircrafts be used to service routes between under-utilized, and well distributed, regional airports—potentially reducing both the distance needed to travel and the size of the plane required. 

The real challenge, as always, will be making sure that any such innovation directly replaces higher-carbon alternatives—and doesn’t just become an excuse for not building trains. We’ll see how that goes…