A converted Cessna hybrid electric plane has taken its maiden flight above the skies of southern California, in what may prove to be a significant moment for the future of the global aviation industry.
Aviation is a major contributor to transport emissions – in Australia it is the among the fastest rising sources of emissions and in the US accounts for 12% of transport emissions and 3% of national emissions as a whole.
While pure electric zero emissions flight options are being developed by various companies around the world, the cost of converting and securing flight approval for existing planes converted to electric or hybrid-electric is for now a cheaper and faster option.
The hybrid electric Cessna 337, which has been converted by California-based startup Ampaire, took flight from Camarillo Airport on Thursday (US time), following its approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in May to begin its flight testing program.
The six-seater plane, which normally uses two propellers with twin 210-horsepower engines to achieve flight, has had one of the engines replaced with an electric motor.
This significantly reduces flight emissions while at the same time reducing running costs.
The goal is to supply to a regional airline industry that has in recent years experienced a decline in short and medium haul flights.
“Imagine that in just a few years you will be able to buy a ticket for a flight that is clean, quiet and inexpensive,” said Kevin Noertker, CEO of Ampaire via the same email.
“Ampaire is proud to lead the aviation industry in transportation electrification, and we recognize the importance of electric aviation for climate change and community connectivity.”
Once all successful testing is completed, Ampaire intends to partner with Hawaii’s Mokulele Airlines, testing another prototype aircraft with a configuration based on what is learned from the current test flights.
Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, said that the flight is a huge step for aviation.
“As a cleantech company that was started in our great city as part of LACI, Ampaire’s incredible achievement further cements Los Angeles as the leader in transportation electrification and technology innovation,” she said in a note by email.
Matt Petersen, CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) who have nurtured Ampaire in their journey to bringing the hybrid electric conversion program to fruition, says the flight also shows leadership in the global aviation industry.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, today’s historic flight not only signifies a huge step forward for aviation, it also shines a light on Los Angeles’s leadership in transportation electrification,” said Matt Petersen, CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).
“That’s why I’m so excited for the Ampaire team for their first hybrid-electric flight—as a LACI portfolio company, Ampaire and their Ampaire 337 flight test program further proves that Los Angeles is a cleantech hub that attracts investment and game-changing innovation for climate solutions.”
Van Espahbodi, co-founder and managing director of Starburst Accelerator who also were involved in the acceleration of the aviation startup, said there is huge potential in the conversion of aircraft to hybrid electric.
“Flight is becoming electric and this is the most incredible team to make that happen,” said Van Espahbodi, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Starburst Accelerator.
“We see tremendous potential in their business model, and we’re excited to see them achieve this significant technical milestone.”
With a view to commercial inter-island flights by 2021, Ampaire are also making plans to partner with Puerto Rican regional operator Vieques Air Link and according to Aviation Today, the company has also confirmed that it has signed letters of interest with 14 other airlines around the world.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.