Electric Commercial Aircraft Takes To The Sky

electric commercial aircraft
Image Credit: Harbour Air

A 62-year-old seaplane was transformed into the world’s first fully electric commercial aircraft. The debut flight took place earlier this month over Vancouver. This modified six-seater DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver took off from the Fraser River at Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond, British Columbia, just south of the international airport.

Greg McDougall, CEO and founder of Harbour Air Seaplanes, was at the helm taking the electric commercial aircraft on a 15-minute flight. The 750-horsepower magni500 propulsion system was developed by Australian electric motor manufacturer, magniX.

According to McDougall, the electric commercial aircraft will be the first in a potential all-electric fleet. At the moment, Harbour Air has over 40 aircraft travelling between destinations across British Colombia and Washington State in the northwest US. They transport over 500,000 passengers every year and an electric fleet is certainly on the cards.

More On The Electric Commercial Aircraft

The Harbour Air and magniX partnership to create this incredible electric commercial aircraft was announced earlier this year. They also unveiled the magni500 propulsion system at the 2019 Paris Air Show in June.

According to magniX, both the magni500 and the magni250 (375-horsepower) operate at 1900rpm. In addition to powering de Havilland Beavers, this larger electric motor can also be used on other aircraft including the Cessna Caravans, Beechcraft King Airs and de Havilland Otters.

Harbour Air and magniX will begin the certification process as well as approval for the propulsion system and retrofitting the electric plane. Once successful, they will roll out the technology across the remaining Harbour Air fleet. There is no better company to have done this as Harbour Air is North America’s largest seaplane airline servicing 12 routes around the Pacific Northwest.

Specifications And Performance

MagniX addressed all the challenges in its propulsion development like the magni500 motor delivering 750 hp (560 kW) and over 2,800 Nm (2,065 lb-ft) of torque in less than 300 lb (136 kg) of weight. It only turns at 1,900 rpm which offers direct drive to the propeller and uses a closed-loop liquid cooling system. This helps cool the motor and inverter simultaneously.

Considering that Harbour Air’s scheduled flights are all around 15 to 25 minutes, they opted for the already successful 200 watt-hrs/kg range of batteries in the prototype. This equates to a 30-minute flight with 30 minutes in reserve. While this may not seem like enough on a commercial jet level but we are talking about a 6-seater seaplane doing shorter trips.

They will replace all the expensive turbine engines with a simple electric motor that apparently has a 10,000-hour service life before requiring any substantial maintenance.

Potential Benefits Of An Electric Commercial Aircraft

Emissions from the aviation industry are about 2-3% which is significantly high. If the aviation sector was a country, they would be in the top 10 global emitters. Electric power raises several possibilities for air travel with hybrid planes improving the efficiency of existing routes and flying taxis that can create new ones.

Besides the obvious environmental benefits, electric planes could also have practical advantages.

  • Airfares could become significantly cheaper due to the lower fuel and maintenance costs
  • Improved efficiency of major airports by handling shorter trips and avoiding caps on noisy planes
  • These light and low-cost electric commercial aircraft could go places where other planes can’t

Related: ‘Zunum Aero Hybrid Electric Plane A Future Revelation

Quotes From Harbour Air And magniX

Roei Ganzarski, magniX CEO, said that “The transportation industry and specifically the aviation segment that has been, for the most part, stagnant since the late 1930s, is ripe for a massive disruption. Now we are proving that low-cost, environmentally friendly, commercial electric air travel can be a reality in the very near future”.

Greg McDougall from Harbour Air Seaplanes had the following to say: “Today, we made history. I am incredibly proud of Harbour Air’s leadership role in re-defining safety and innovation in the aviation and seaplane industry. Canada has long held an iconic role in the history of aviation, and to be part of this incredible world-first milestone is something we can all be really proud of.”

Conclusion

While these smaller electric commercial aircraft can’t carry as many passengers or travel as fast, technological advances will improve this over time. If these electric aeroplanes were paired with other forms of electric air travel like hybrid aeroplanes or flying taxis, they could greatly complement one another. At the same time, electric commercial aircraft could replace other, dirtier forms of travel.

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