Harbour Air Seaplanes announced Tuesday it plans to convert its fleet of more than 40 aircraft to electric propulsion to become the world’s first emissions-free passenger airline. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Electric floatplanes will change the business of flying across the strait

Harbour Air Seaplanes first in the world to attempt converting fleet to zero-emissions aircraft

A fleet of electric aircraft could eventually be criss-crossing the Strait of Georgia.

Harbour Air Seaplanes, the world’s first carbon-neutral airline, announced Tuesday it plans to convert its fleet of more than 40 aircraft to electric propulsion to become the world’s first emissions-free passenger airline in a joint venture with MagniX, an electric aviation propulsion systems development company in Redmond, Wash.

Greg McDougall, Harbour Air Seaplanes founder and CEO, said the first Harbour Air prototype electric floatplane will start making test flights in November.

“I’m certain we can get the first aircraft up, so that’s as confident as you can be, I guess,” McDougall said. “The reason I say that is that the technology to do it actually exists today and it’s basically a matter of retrofitting that technology to existing technology.”

The test bed for electric commercial flight will be a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, a Canadian aircraft design flying since 1947.

Harbour Air’s electric Beaver will have its engine replaced with a much lighter, simpler electric motor and one tonne of battery packs replacing the aircraft’s fuel tanks to give it 30 minutes’ flight range with 30 minutes’ reserve power, more than sufficient to cover all of Harbour Air’s routes.

“Range is a matter of perspective,” said Roei Ganzarski, MagniX CEO. “Are we going to fly from Vancouver to Toronto non-stop? No, but Vancouver to Nanaimo or Vancouver to Victoria non-stop on all-electric is doable today.”

MagniX has tested its motors and battery setups on a test jig, which has logged 1,500 hours’ operation. The Beaver will be the first aircraft to fly a 750-horsepower MagniX propulsion system, which Ganzarski said is the power level planned for Harbour Air’s entire fleet. The Beaver, he said, offers the benefit of being a simple aircraft design that allows relatively easy placement of batteries and other systems without changing the plane’s centre of gravity.

“That’s the beauty of the Beaver … It’s really made to be very simple and it’s basically a flying tank … the only thing right now is that this has never been done before,” Ganzarski said. “There are no electric propulsion systems out there at the scale that we’re building. There are no electric aircraft at the scale that we’re building … with Harbour Air. So that’s the only challenge is that we’re that we’re doing this for the first time.”

McDougall said the prototype will operate as an experimental aircraft to prove the system and gain certification to carry passengers. He hopes to fly passengers aboard electric planes by 2022, albeit with possibly lighter loads to maximize aircraft range.

“We still won’t be able to fly with a full plane, but we will be able to fly with enough people to make it economically viable because the costs are extremely reduced,” McDougall said.

Electric motors burn no fuel, have few moving parts so they require little maintenance, and last far longer than fossil-fuelled motors, “so you’re looking at an entirely different financial model,” McDougall said. “You’ve got a motor on a plane that will go for 10,000 hours versus 3,000 and you probably wouldn’t even … rebuild it. You’d just throw it away and get a new one.”

While other companies, including major aircraft manufacturers, are focused on developing everything from small vertical take-off and landing flying commuter vehicles to full-size long-range airliners, none are attempting retrofitting an existing fleet to all-electric propulsion, he said.

“We’re doing the most boring, unsexy part of aviation … It’s the same aircraft that the regulatory authorities know. It’s the same aircraft that the airlines know. It’s the same aircraft the passengers know. So, we’re trying to keep things as simple as possible because simplicity is how you drive a revolution,” Ganzarski said.

McDougall said response to the announcement has been “incredibly positive,” but he also expects education will be needed to get some passengers comfortable with electrically powered aircraft.

He went on to say MagniX is providing the test system for free and the actual cost of the systems will be worked in on a future business plan, but he foresees no insurmountable technical hurdles to a successful outcome of the program.

“As a company, we’re super excited to be a part of continuing the Canadian legacy of being innovative in aviation,” McDougall said. “That’s something we’re super proud of and the company’s really excited about it and it seems to be positive in every way.”



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Roei Ganzarski, MagniX CEO, has pinpointed Harbour Air Seaplanes as the perfect fit for his company’s electric aircraft propulsion systems. (Photo courtesy MagniX)

Just Posted

Make your house a home at Nanaimo spring home expo

Building renovation and decor show taking place at Beban Park till Feb. 23

‘Frankenstein’ to be adapted as silent film made in real time at Port Theatre

Production merges stories of author Mary Shelley and character Victor Frankenstein

City of Nanaimo mulling sponsorship policy

Finance and audit committee recommends approving plan to create policy around facility naming rights

Nanaimo Art Gallery requesting $200,000 to upgrade its downtown space

Councillors supportive of NAG’s plans, but no decision made on increasing financial assistance

No credible threat found during high school lockdown, say Nanaimo RCMP

Police won’t say if lockdown at Dover Bay Secondary was related to one at the school last fall

VIDEO: Behind the scenes of turning newspapers into digital archives

Kelowna Capital News donated materials dating from 1980 to 2000

Council approves two retail cannabis stores for Ladysmith

Their applications are now in the hands of the provincial government

Court awards Nanaimo woman $300,000 after crash exacerbates her fibromyalgia

Judgment follows 2015 motor vehicle accident on Turner Road

Affordable seniors housing complex pitched for Nanaimo’s hospital district

Seafield Crescent complex would include two five-storey buildings

Exclusive: Pamela Anderson talks plans for waterfront Ladysmith property after 12-day marriage

Anderson says she can pay her own bills. Peters denies making comments suggesting she can’t

Suspect steals seaplane, crashes into another in Vancouver habour

Police responded to the incident at 3:30 a.m. on Friday

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

Most Read