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Will this be the world's first all-electric airline?

28/03/2019
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Harbour Air, which is North America’s largest seaplane airline, could be the first in the world to go completely electric it has announced this week. The company plans to make its entire 34-aircraft fleet 100% electric with the assistance of electric-aviation start-up magniX.
Should flight tests go well Harbour Air will become the world's first all-electric airline.
(Should flight tests go well Harbour Air will become the world’s first all-electric airline. Image via Harbour Air).

Harbour Air currently operates more than 30,000 flights over 12 routes in the Pacific Northwest each year, carrying 500,000 passengers on its fleet of light seaplanes. In an effort to lower both operating costs and environmental impact, Harbour Air will be replacing all of the seaplanes’ internal combustion engines with 560-kW/750-hp magni500 motors.

The first planes to be ‘electrified’ will be Harbour Air’s de Havilland Beavers.

These diminutive six-passenger planes will be stripped of their Pratt & Whitney engines and fuel tanks to be replaced with a set of lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor which will provide enough energy to fly about 160 kilometres (100 miles) on a single charge. According to Harbour Air, this is sufficient range to cover all of the airlines short-hop flights.
magniX tests its 260-kW lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor in a Cessna Iron Bird aircraft.
(Pictured here magniX tests its 260-kW lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor in a Cessna Iron Bird aircraft. Image via magniX).

Flight tests of the electric de Havilland Beavers will begin later in 2019.

 “Harbour Air first demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by becoming the first fully carbon-neutral airline in North America in 2007, through the purchase of carbon offsets,” says Greg McDougall, founder and CEO of Harbour Air Seaplanes. “Through our commitment to making a positive impact on people’s lives, the communities where we operate and the environment, we are once again pushing the boundaries of aviation by becoming the first commercial aircraft to be powered by electric propulsion. We are excited to bring commercial electric aviation to the Pacific Northwest, turning our seaplanes into ePlanes”.

If you think electrifying its fleet will be costly for Harbour Air, then think again.

According to magniX the cost of retrofitting the planes will not exceed what a standard engine overhaul- required after every 2,000 hours of flight time- typically costs. What’s more, Harbour Air will no longer have to worry about one of an airline’s biggest expenses- fuel. It’s not clear yet what these savings will amount to, but Harbour Air will certainly make savings on maintenance after the switch to electric.
The first of Harbour Air's fleet to be 'electrified' will be their de Havilland Beaver light seaplanes.
(The first of Harbour Air’s fleet to be ‘electrified’ will be their de Havilland Beaver light seaplanes. Image via Harbour Air).

The aviation industry currently contributes 12 percent of all US carbon emissions and 4.9 percent globally. A switch to electric propulsion technologies could have a dramatic impact on the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

“In 2018, 75 percent of worldwide airline flights were 1,000 miles or less in range. With mangiX’s new propulsion systems coupled with emerging battery capabilities, we see tremendous potential for electric aviation to transform this heavily trafficked ‘middle mile’ range,” says Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, who hopes that the partnership with Harbour Air will “set the standard for the future of commercial aviation operators”.

So, to answer our own question: yes, it looks like Harbour Air will be the world’s first all-electric airline…

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