Harbour Air completes the 'world's first' commercial electric airplane test flight

Polycount

TS Evangelist
Staff member

The plane took to the air in Vancouver, British Columbia for a total of 10 minutes as part of a brief proof-of-concept test flight. The flight took place over the Fraser River, and it was piloted by Harbour Air's own CEO and founder, Greg McDougall.

According to the company, this "historic flight" signifies the start of the "third era" in aviation, an era it calls the "electric age." This is a bold claim, and a debatable one -- while the eBeaver might be the first commercial electric airplane to take to the skies, it's not the first commercial electric aircraft to do so.

We've seen other electric "air taxi" companies achieve similar milestones, though those "flights" are often little more than a quick hop -- the vehicles propel themselves up, hover for a few seconds, and then quickly land.

By contrast, the eBeaver managed a much longer horizontal flight, which is certainly impressive given its power source. You can see a cut-down version of the plane's test flight in the video above (headphone users beware).

"Today, we made history," said McDougall. "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 eBeaver is a six-passenger plane with a 750-horsepower (560kW) "magni500" propulsion system, which helps to deliver clean and efficient power to airplanes. Sadly, other details like the eBeaver's top speed or maximum range are unknown at the moment.

Harbour Air will begin its first commercial eBeaver flights in 2022.

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red1776

Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe
other details like the eBeaver's top speed or maximum range are unknown at the moment.
Not to worry, I'm sure it will get all the way to the crash site.
 

John Galt

TS Rookie
other details like the eBeaver's top speed or maximum range are unknown at the moment.
Not to worry, I'm sure it will get all the way to the crash site.
Nah, electric is liable to be more reliable than the old radial engines. Their business model only runs 30 minute hops, perfect for today's batteries.

It costs them about $350 per hour just in gasoline to operate that plane. The motor must be overhauled every 2,000 at a cost of $50,000-80,000, which means another $40/hr plus annual maintenance for a total operating cost of close to $450/hr. With electric, that most likely drops to $150/hr.

Batteries have a long way to go before they will be able to store the same amount of energy per pound of petroleum fuels, but for short hop operations electric will probably wipe the board within a decade.
 

Colin Genge

TS Rookie
Hydrogen from clean sources would be at least 3 times the cost of power pumped into batteries in BC so the route they’re going is way the cheapest. Hydrogen requires infrastructure that does not yet exist and lots of capital intensive investment compared to simply taking power from the panel.

Harbour is going the right way and should have a profitable operation with tons of touristas who’ll take a flight just to experience electric flight. I am hoping they do well. Looking forward to my first electric plane ride.
 

Colin Genge

TS Rookie
Nah, electric is liable to be more reliable than the old radial engines. Their business model only runs 30 minute hops, perfect for today's batteries.

It costs them about $350 per hour just in gasoline to operate that plane. The motor must be overhauled every 2,000 at a cost of $50,000-80,000, which means another $40/hr plus annual maintenance for a total operating cost of close to $450/hr. With electric, that most likely drops to $150/hr.

Batteries have a long way to go before they will be able to store the same amount of energy per pound of petroleum fuels, but for short hop operations electric will probably wipe the board within a decade.
I thought they ran turbo props but either way, they should save a bundle on operational costs.
 
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John Galt

TS Rookie
I thought they ran turbo props but either way, they should save a bundle on operational costs.
I didn't look that closely. Turboprops are really efficient on long haul runs up high, but are incredibly thirsty on short runs down low. They ARE less maintenance hungry than radials, but that comes at high capital costs and fuel costs eat up a lot of that. Given that electric gives you BOTH fuel savings and reliability, battery is still likely to be a huge winner for the short hop runs.

Another operator I would expect to see switch would be someone like Bimini Air running Cessna Caravans in the Bahamas. Swappable battery packs in the cargo pods slung beneath, or simply fast charging at each stop, would save them a bundle.
 

Danny101

TS Evangelist
Unfortunately, that will not be happening with today's solar electric technology - unless, of course, they recharge it on the ground using solar.
Solar technology is improving and even if it couldn't provide enough power to keep the plane in the air on it's own, it could still slow the rate of battery depletion and thereby increase and aircrafts range. Also, an alternator can be employed as well.
 

John Galt

TS Rookie
Solar technology is improving and even if it couldn't provide enough power to keep the plane in the air on it's own, it could still slow the rate of battery depletion and thereby increase and aircrafts range. Also, an alternator can be employed as well.
Using today's solar technology on anything larger or heavier than an experimental "ultra efficiency" aircraft, it is unlikely solar panels could provide even enough power to make up for the extra weight. Things will get better, though.