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ELECTRIFICATION OF MOBILITY is all the rage. So what about air travel? Tidbits yesterday focused on clearing up a misunderstanding (English Electric aircraft weren’t electric) and celebrating a circumnavigation. Today in Part 2, here’s something that’s old, yet new.
A Vintage Alternative. An electric aircraft recently appearing in the news depends on a vintage design: a 63-year-old airframe converted to electric power. The de Havilland Beaver is certainly a good starting point.
Harbour Air is a seaplane airline headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia. Its electric venture is described in Ian Duncan’s article “A Small Canadian Airline Using a 63-Year-Old Seaplane is on the Forefront of Electric-Powered Flight,” The Washington Post, December 28, 2019. Duncan writes, “This month, Harbour Air’s modified de Havilland Beaver made its first flight above the waters near Vancouver, staying airborne a few minutes. The feat prompted the airline to claim that it had conducted the world’s first commercial electric flight.”
Battery weight and subsequently reduced range have clouded potential of electric aircraft. However, Harbour Air’s Greg McDougall noted that his seaplanes’ typically short routes are suited to battery limitations. The electric Beaver has a 30-minute range, with another 30-minute reserve, on a one-hour charge. Plus, McDougall observes that, in an emergency, a seaplane can set down anywhere there’s water.
Also, in The New York Times, December 26, 2019, writer Mike Arnot quotes McDougall saying, “The Beaver does not need a lot of energy because it flies slow.”
Not only does speed require energy, it also generates a lot of noise: McDougall notes that quieter planes are less disruptive flying into waterfront areas that are now people’s neighborhoods. Plus, passengers and crew don’t need headsets to communicate.
Arnot observes, “Regulatory review in the United States and Canada will take two to three years, at which point Harbour Air can install the engines and begin accepting paying passengers on all-electric aircraft.”
“On the environment plus side,” McDougall says, “there is a zero carbon burn. In the long run, the operating economics will allow us to make more flights more affordable for a larger audience.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020