Leading North American seaplane airline Harbour Air has been propelled into history by Australian technology, successfully undertaking what is understood to be the world’s first ever electric seaplane flight on Tuesday (US time).
Long haul all-electric flight may be some way off, largely because of the current energy density of batteries, but short and medium haul flights are now within reach, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s flight.
Powered by a 560kW (750hp) all-electric magni500 propulsion system designed and developed by Gold Coast-based magniX, the converted six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver flew into the pages of history piloted by Harbour Air CEO and founder Greg McDougall.
Today, we made history. Launching the world’s first electric commercial aircraft retrofitted with a 750 horsepower all-electric magni500 propulsion system. Thank you to our amazing maintenance team and our partners at @MagniX for all your efforts! Together, we did it! ???? #ePlane pic.twitter.com/Rhw35BRnqB
— Harbour Air Seaplanes (@HarbourAirLtd) December 10, 2019
McDougall, who is a veteran of the Canadian airline industry having first piloted in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1977, founded Harbour Air in 1982 initially as charter operation aimed at serving the foresting industry and remote fishing camps.
These days, Harbour Air ferries some half a million passengers on scheduled routes across British Columbia, Vancouver, and Seattle, Washington.
The momentous flight took place on the Fraser River at Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond, Vancouver.
“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,” said McDougall in a statement regarding the flight.
“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.”
The flight is the long-awaited result of a partnership between the two companies that was first reported by The Driven in March.
Along with another partnership inked in April with Israeli-based regional aircraft developer Eviation, magniX is positioning itself as a pioneer of a new era of electric flight.
“In December 1903, the Wright Brothers launched a new era of transportation—the aviation age—with the first flight of a powered aircraft,” said Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX and Eviation chair, in a statement
“Today, 116 years later, with the first flight of an all-electric powered commercial aircraft, we launched the electric era of aviation.”
In 2018, 75% of flights globally flew routes ranging just 1,600km or less according to Roei Ganzarski, ex-Boeing and now CEO of magniX.
The potential for short and medium haul electric flight could see the aviation industry finally meet the same disruptibe force that is being seen in the automotive industry.
“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,” says Ganzarski.
In June, another successful inaugural electric flight was conducted in Switzerland by Solar Impulse offshoot H55, in the guise of a 2-seater Bristell Energic with 50kWh battery pack and H55 propulsion unit.
Eviation plans to take to the air in 2022, and Bloomberg reported in October that it now has 150 orders for its 9-seater all-electric aircraft it has dubbed Alice.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and 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. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.