The world’s first completely electric aircraft has successfully completed its maiden test flight in Vancouver, Canada.
The company behind the plane’s design, Australian engineering firm magniX, has hailed the test flight as the start of the ‘electronic aviation age’.
The motor of the electric commercial aircraft was designed by magniX in collaboration with Harbour Air, a float plane service based in British Columbia, which carries more than 500,000 passengers a year between Vancover and the and the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast and Whistler
Roei Ganzarski, chief executive of magniX, said that the successful test is proof that “aviation in all-electric form can work”.
Air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon emissions, and the success of e-planes could be a real game-changer for the aviation industry and significantly cut the its high pollution output.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been pushing for the use of more efficient biofuel engines and lighter aircraft materials, as well as route optimisation.
The electric plane used in the test is a six passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane, which has been retrofitted with a 750hp electric motor (560 kW) magni500 propulsion system.
Founder and chief executive of Harbour Air, Greg McDougall, who piloted the plane said of the 15 minute journey: “For me that flight was just like flying a Beaver, but it was a Beaver on electric steroids. I actually had to back off on the power.”
The craft first debuted at the Paris Air Show earlier this year. The magni500 propulsion system is designed to provide a “clean and efficient way to power airplanes”, the company said.
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If the e-plane secures the necessary safety and regulatory approvals, Harbour Air said it aims to electrify all of its aircraft by 2020.
McDougall said that electrifying his entire fleet of more than 40 seaplanes would save his company millions in maintenance costs because electric motors require “drastically” less upkeep and would be more fuel-efficient.
With growing fears over climate change and the polluting impact of air travel, if proven a viable alternative, e-planes could provide a realistic alternative. However, at present, flight range is a major barrier and cannot address the problem of long haul flights.
E-plane batteries have not kept pace with the development of electrical motors, generators, power distribution and controls, which have all advanced rapidly.
Lithium batteries, like the one used in the test flight, can only fly about 160km (100 miles), according to Ganzarski.
Short-haul electric flights could transform how people commute, Ganzarski said. “The range now is not where we’d love it to be, but it’s enough to start the revolution,” he added. “If people are willing to drive an hour to work, why not fly 15 minutes to work?” Ganzarksi said.