Aircraft

World’s first all-electric commercial aircraft takes off

World’s first all-electric com...
The modified, all-electric six-passenger de Havilland Beaver ready for its flight
The modified, all-electric six-passenger de Havilland Beaver ready for its flight
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The first all-electric commercial aircraft is a modified six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver
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The first all-electric commercial aircraft is a modified six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver
The all-electric Beaver over Canada
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The all-electric Beaver over Canada
Harbour Air plans to convert its entire fleet to electric propulsion
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Harbour Air plans to convert its entire fleet to electric propulsion
Greg McDougall, founder and CEO of Harbour Air
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Greg McDougall, founder and CEO of Harbour Air
The modified, all-electric six-passenger de Havilland Beaver ready for its flight
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The modified, all-electric six-passenger de Havilland Beaver ready for its flight

The world's first successful flight of an all-electric commercial aircraft was completed today as a modified six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver took to the air from the Fraser River at Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond, British Columbia with Harbour Air CEO and founder Greg McDougall at the controls. Operated by Harbour Air and equipped with a by a 750-horsepower (560 kW) magni500 propulsion system built by magniX, it is the first in a planned fleet of all-electric commercial seaplanes.

Electric propulsion has been very much in the news in recent years as everyone from the builders of tiny drones to NASA have looked into how to make an all-electric propulsion system that can compete on some level with conventional commercial aircraft.

The idea may at first seem as odd as a horse-drawn zeppelin, but electric aircraft have many potential advantages. Aside from producing zero emissions and much lower noise levels, they also promise lower maintenance costs because of their simpler design with fewer moving parts.

The all-electric Beaver over Canada
The all-electric Beaver over Canada

However, they still suffer from relying on very heavy batteries and having a very limited range. And while that may be a deal-breaker for many commercial applications, it can be very attractive for short-haul airlines that land and take off at frequent intervals, such as in Puget Sound on the North American west coast, where island hoppers are common.

This year, Harbour Air, the world's largest seaplane airline, entered into a partnership with Redmond, Washington-based magniX to produce an all-electric commercial seaplane fleet based on magniX's high-power density magni500 propulsion system, which was retrofitted to a standard Beaver seaplane. According to Harbour Air, today's flight will be followed by starting the process to certify the modifications and the propulsion system for regular service before going on to retrofitting the rest of the Harbour Air fleet.

"Today, we made history," says Greg McDougall, CEO and founder of Harbour Air Seaplanes. "I am incredibly proud of Harbour Air’s leadership role in re-defining safety and innovation in the aviation and seaplane industry. 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 video below shows the flight (skip forward to around 4.30 to see the plane get airborne).

Harbour Air electric plane flight

Source: Harbour Air

8 comments
paul314
Good on them! Short-haul aircraft really are a good application for early electric systems, because combustion engines tend to age -- and pollute -- by takeoff/landing cycles rather than just by total time. And when serious maintenance has to be done once a month or so, costs add up.
buzzclick
The folks at Float Air Shuttle in California are probably paying close attention to this development. Planes, boats, shuttles...are all useful applications for e-power, with all the innovations in battery and motor technology full speed ahead.
Wolf0579
Another win for ....SCIENCE!
Colt12
Fuel cells in the near future will extend the flight distance. Great job with the battery power.
bwana4swahili
A great start! Now all we really need to keep this growing is higher energy density batteries or maybe even hydrogen fuel cell technology to keep planes in the air longer / farther.
nick101
I imagine the batteries are in the pontoons (?) so this might not be practical for regular planes, but it is a good start.
Philip Argy
So 'normal' it's almost an anti-climax! Fabulous milestone.
buzzclick
Good point nick101. Where are the batteries? On a normal plane, the fuel would be mostly in the wings, and pontoons need to float enough to carry the weight of the plane...I suspect the battery weight is distributed in both.