Vancouver seaplane airline completes first point-to-point flight with prototype electric aircraft

A seaplane airline in Vancouver says it has achieved a new goal in its development of an electric aircraft.

Harbor Air Seaplanes said in a release that it completed its first direct point-to-point test flight on Wednesday by flying 74 kilometers in 24 minutes from a terminal on the Fraser River near Vancouver International Airport to a bay near Victoria International Airport.

“We’re really excited about this project and what it means for us and what it means for electric aviation to be able to keep pushing that forward,” said Erika Holtz, who leads the project for the company.

Harbor Air, founded in 1982, uses small propeller planes to fly commercial flights between the Lower Mainland, Seattle, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Whistler.

In the last few years it has turned its attention to becoming a leader in green urban mobility, which would do away with the need to burn fossil fuels, a major contributor to climate change, for air travel.

In December 2019, a pilot flew one of Harbor Air’s planes — a more than 60-year-old DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver floatplane that had been outfitted with a Seattle-based company’s electric propulsion system, magniX — for three minutes over Richmond.

Since then, the company has continued to fine-tune the plane and conduct test flights in order to meet federally regulated criteria, showing it can fly safely with passengers.

Watch the maiden test flight of the plane that aims to be the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft.

Harbor Air’s new fully electric seaplane flew over the Fraser River for three minutes today in its debut test flight.

Holtz said flying point-to-point this week was a significant step forward.

“Having this electric aircraft be able to prove that it can do scheduled flights, it moves us that step closer to being able to completely convert our entire fleet to electric,” she said.

Early test flights were made without any passengers.

The ePlane will stay in Victoria for the weekend as part of an open house put on by the BC Aviation Museum before returning to Richmond.

Weight and battery range

Early in Harbor Air’s undertaking to develop an all-electric airplane, experts who study the aviation sector said Harbor Air would have to find a way to make the plane light enough to carry heavy lithium batteries and passengers, without exceeding weight limits for the plane.

Werner Antweiler, a professor of economics at UBC’s Sauder School of Business who studies the commercialization of novel technologies around mobility, said in 2021 that Harbor Air’s challenge would be proving to regulators that the plane was safe to fly and the batteries powerful enough to complete short -haul flights with power to spare.

In April 2021 Harbor Air partnered with Swiss company H55 to incorporate its battery technology to limit weight and improve the distance the plane could fly.

In December, Harbor Air announced it had begun work on converting a second de Havilland Beaver to an all-electric airplane, copying the original prototype.

Other aviation companies are working towards all-electric passenger airplanes. In 2019, the Israeli company Eviation made a prototype electric nine-seat passenger and cargo plane called Alice, which uses the same propulsion system as Harbor Air’s Beaver.

It is set to make its first test flight this summer.

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