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Harbour Air Completes First Test Flight for Battery-Powered Seaplane

Harbour Air

With allusions to the Wright Brothers’ first test flight in 1903, Harbour Air Seaplanes completed its first all-electric flight in Richmond, British Columbia December 10 with CEO Greg McDougall at the controls.

The 15-minute flight of a modified de Havilland Beaver “marked a significant win for Harbour Air and partner magniX, which designed the electric motor, in the race to electrify commercial aviation fleets,” The Canadian Press reports [1], in a story republished by the Victoria Times-Colonist. “The 62-year-old Beaver was outfitted with a 750-horsepower electric motor, which gives it capacity to fly about 160 kilometres before needing a recharge.”

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“For me, that flight was just like flying a Beaver, but it was a Beaver on electric steroids,” McDougall said. “It wanted to fly. With the tail wind, it was going to leap off the water.”

“In December 1903, the Wright Brothers launched a new era of transportation—the aviation age—with the first flight of a powered aircraft. Today, 116 years later, with the first flight of an all-electric powered commercial aircraft, we launched the electric era of aviation,” magniX CEO Roei Ganzarski added [3] in a release. After remaining “stagnant” since the late 1930s, he said aviation “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.”

While Ganzarski said the global market for electric planes is primed to take off, CP inventories the challenges ahead as Harbour Air and magniX move into certification and approvals for the propulsion system and airplane retrofit.

“Weight, altitude, and storage remain the biggest barriers to flying electric,” the news agency states. “A mid-sized passenger plane weighs 100 times as much as a mid-sized car, and the battery technology hasn’t quite adjusted to the aviation market.”

The other reality is that liquid fuel is still “about 40 to 50 times more power dense than batteries,” CP adds, citing Ganzarski. “But the team expects innovation in the battery industry to continue in the same way for aviation as it has for electric cars. The key will be developing batteries that are more compact at the same time that they are more powerful.”

Harbour Air runs about 300 flights per day in B.C. and Washington State,. In the week before the test flight, it said [4] today’s electric technology is only suitable to carry its small planes on routes like the short run between Vancouver and Nanaimo. “The range now is not where we’d love it to be, but it’s enough to start the revolution,” Ganzarski said [5].