All-Electric Aircraft Catches Fire Amidst Ground Testing

On Jan 21, 2020, Israeli aerospace startup Eviation experienced setbacks when their prototype aircraft, “Alice,” was affected by a fire at their US headquarters in Prescott, Ariz. At the end of 2019, Alice was delivered to Prescott Regional Airport from Vannes, France, where the aircraft was assembled by French carbon composite supplier Carboman Group. Alice’s first flight was scheduled for 2020, but the recent fire may have negatively affected this projection. 

A ground-based battery is said to have caused the fire, which spread to the aircraft. Because Eviation was conducting ground tests that evening, the Prescott Fire Department was on scene should the testing go awry. At 6:30 p.m. local time, an explosion was heard near the Ruger firearm factory that sits on the airport’s premises. The extent of the aircraft’s damage is relatively unknown, though a spokesperson for Eviation says the aircraft is “intact.” Prescott eNews reported damage to the cockpit and cabin. A video of the fire that was shared to Facebook shows the entire aircraft being doused in water. 

When reached for comment the evening of the fire, Eviation released a public statement. “Eviation would like to thank the fire department and the staff of Prescott Airport for their ongoing support and assistance in quickly resolving this incident. We will fully investigate this matter as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I thank my colleagues for their pioneering work as we develop one of the most advanced aircraft in the world,” said the CEO of Eviation, Omer Bar-Yohay. 

For airborne Embry-Riddle students and air traffic control, the incident caused immense confusion. Matthew Winters, a freshman at Embry-Riddle, listened to LiveATC, where he observed that tower controllers initially believed a helicopter had exploded in a hangar. Recent graduate Jonas Wikander performed his takeoff roll as the fire broke out and flew straight through the smoke, which smelled of batteries and burning plastic. Hassan Uraizee, a freshman watching the fire from the opposite side of the airport, saw air traffic control personnel evacuating. Sulfuric acid released into the surrounding airspace prompted evacuations and a code red alert for surrounding communities.

The airport reopened at 9 p.m., not affecting any commercial flights. Previously airborne students were allowed to return from Deer Valley Airport, where they diverted to for two hours. Fortunately, no damage was done to any airport structures and no injuries were reported. The investigation into the cause of the mishap is ongoing. According to Eviation, two more prototypes are due to be delivered to Prescott later this year. The all-electric commuter plane has 150 orders from Cape Air and other undisclosed operators. 

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