The 15-minutes test flight by seaplane airline Habour Air and Australian electric motor manufacturer MagniX was conducted with a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver aircraft, powered by a 750-horsepower magni500 propulsion system. Today, 116 years later, with the first flight of an all-electric powered commercial aircraft, we launched the electric era of aviation. The pilot, Harbor Air founder and CEO Greg McDougall, spent just a few minutes in the air before returning and landing.
With the sun hanging low over the Fraser River in Richmond, B.C., McDougall shifted the throttle into gear and took off. Until now, other tests of electric planes have involved either hybrids that still have fuel onboard or tiny two-seater planes. The first test flight is expected to fly for about an hour. Aviation, which produces about 2% of the world's carbon emissions, presents a particular problem when it comes to decarbonization of transportation, since there are issues with the energy densities of batteries to provide the kind of power needed to get an airplane - especially one with passengers and cargo - into the air.
The first in what could be a future line of aircraft has taken one of the world's most popular "bush" planes, the DeHavilland Beaver and retrofitted it with an electric motor.
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarki told Fortune that charging electric planes is 60% to 80% cheaper than fuelling an aircraft with fossil-fuels. "I actually had to back off on the power", McDougall said.
"This proves that commercial aviation in an all-electric form can work", he said. Although the range of the electric motor flown today was limited, once the technology is proven, Harbour Air says it will be ideal for its short-haul flights. But for small planes-up to 12 passengers-electric flights are now possible.
The key will be developing batteries that are more compact at the same time that they are more powerful.
While Tuesday's test flight is a big step forward to getting the e-plane certified for commercial use, Harbour Air estimates that process will take around two years.