With Tesla as its model, MagniX revs up electric motors to revolutionize airplanes

MagniX CEO with motor
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski shows off a drum-sized, 350-horsepower electric motor that will soon be hooked up to an airplane propeller at the company’s lab in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

REDMOND, Wash. — An electric-propulsion company called MagniX shifted its headquarters from Australia to Redmond just a few months ago — but it’s already revving up for takeoff.

The venture, owned by Singapore-based Clermont Group, is on track to conduct its first flight tests with an all-electric motor installed in a converted plane by the end of the year, CEO Roei Ganzarski told GeekWire this week during a tour of MagniX’s digs.

The two-story office space in Redmond already houses more than 15 employees, and Ganzarski plans to hire 20 more in the next three months, mostly in engineering. Roughly 50 more employees are working at MagniX’s engineering facility in Arundel, about 40 miles south of Brisbane on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Ganzarski, a Boeing veteran, said the company moved its global HQ to Redmond to take advantage of the Seattle area’s engineering talent and its aerospace ecosystem. “You can’t be a world leader in aerospace from Australia. … We decided that the most logical place for us would be Seattle, Washington,” he said.

MagniX’s baby sits on a test stand in the Redmond facility’s lab: a round electric motor that weighs about 110 pounds and is small enough to fit inside a carry-on bag. Looks can be deceiving, however: That drum-sized Magni 250 motor can churn out 350 hp. The prototype had its “first spin” back in September, and Ganzarski the first set of motors has already been delivered to MagniX’s launch partner..

The Magni 250’s specifications make it possible to power an eight- to 15-passenger airplane like the Cessna Caravan. And MagniX is gearing up to produce a 220-pound version, the Magni 500, which will put out 750 hp at 1,900 rpm. That’s even more suited to replace internal combustion engines in existing planes.

“Welcome to electric aviation,” Ganzarski said.

Ganzarski compared MagniX’s position in the aviation industry to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s position in the automotive industry.

“Look back seven years at electric cars,” he said. “No one said it could be done. Everyone pooh-poohed Elon Musk at Tesla. ‘There’s not enough batteries, you won’t get the range, it’s not as good as a traditional car.’ And he had the vision to say, ‘No, we’ll make it happen, and that will start the ripple effects.’ Lo and behold, it did. Now every car manufacturer has an electric car.”

MagniX’s business plan calls for starting small: Ganzarski said he already has an airplane manufacturer lined up to install MagniX’s electric-propulsion system into Cessna-class airplanes, plus an operator that’s primed to fly the converted aircraft on routes with a range of roughly 100 miles.

“We’re not talking about a 737 or a private jet,” he said. “They fly short distances. Look at a FedEx feeder, look at a Kenmore Air, look at a Cape Air. … These are all 10-, 20-, 30-minute flights.”

Just as the Tesla Roadster blazed the trail for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y, those short-range flights could blaze a trail for low-cost, zero-emission flights that take advantage of thousands of underused regional airports in places like Moses Lake and Ellensburg, Wash.

Ganzarski said electric aviation could bring a 70 to 80 percent reduction in flight costs. And if that comes to pass, it could open up whole new opportunities in air transportation.

“If it’s that cheap to fly to Ellensburg, guess what? Maybe Amazon could do two-hour shipments to Ellensburg, instead of five-day shipments on a truck,” Ganzarski said. “Think about an airfield in Redmond or Issaquah, and Ellensburg. Suddenly Ellensburg could be a suburb of Seattle.”

MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski shows off the lobby of his company’s offices in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Could it really happen? And is MagniX the company to do it? The business model that Ganzarski has in mind is similar to what Kirkland, Wash.-based Zunum Aero is pursuing for its hybrid-electric aircraft. Zunum Aero won big-name backing from Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures, but it reportedly ran into trouble closing its next financing round.

Ganzarski argues that MagniX has two advantages on its side: First, the company is going with an all-electric approach rather than Zunum’s more complex hybrid propulsion system. He drew another analogy to the auto industry: “If I’m selling hybrid today, I’m selling history.”

The second advantage has to do with MagniX’s funding. Because it’s wholly owned by the Clermont Group, Ganzarski doesn’t have to worry about raising venture capital. “We are not a traditional startup,” he said. “We are not venture-backed, we are a fully funded company. Which means that I, as a CEO, and our company can focus on our long-term goal.”

That goal, Ganzarski said, has everything to do with connections.

“We’re both completely aligned on the vision of prosperity and connecting communities,” he said. “They also know that this isn’t an 18-month return. This isn’t an app that we’ll sell to somebody in 18 months and get an exit. This isn’t about that. This is about building a generational business that will have a positive impact on society.

“None of us have options in the company,” Ganzarski said. “We’re not here because we think that one day we’ll be rich. We’re here with a mission. We want to be able to tell our grandkids that they’re all flying on clean, low-cost aircraft because of what we did in 2018 and 2019.”

MagniX office
Employees work in MagniX’s second-floor offices in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

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