Harbour Air

Harbour Air partnership would create world’s first all-electric seaplane fleet

A Harbour Air de Havilland Beaver departs Richmond’s Fraser River near Vancouver International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah).

North America’s largest seaplane operator Harbour Air, not satisfied with being the continent’s first carbon-neutral airline, has announced its ambition to convert to an all-electric fleet.

Harbour Air made the announcement Tuesday with magniX, a Seattle-area high-tech firm. The two are partnering to install a 750 horsepower electric motor and batteries in a six-seat de Havilland Beaver later this year.

The converted plane will then be tested before the technology can be certified for passenger flights. The whole process could take up to three years to complete.

If the trials are successful, Harbour Air would become the world’s first all-electric seaplane fleet. With British Columbia’s abundant hydro-electric resources, the power generated to charge the planes would also be virtually carbon-free.

“Harbour Air first demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by becoming the first fully carbon-neutral airline in North America in 2007, through the purchase of carbon offsets,” said Greg McDougall, founder and CEO of Harbour Air Seaplanes.

Harbour Air offers an extensive network from its Vancouver and Richmond, B.C. bases to points along Canada’s West Coast and into Washington State. It offers some 30,000 flights a year, serving half a million passengers.

“Through our commitment to making a positive impact on people’s lives, the communities where we operate and the environment, we are once again pushing the boundaries of aviation by becoming the first aircraft to be powered by electric propulsion,” said McDougall. “We are excited to bring commercial electric aviation to the Pacific Northwest, turning our seaplanes into ePlanes.”

Carbon is a growing problem for aviation companies around the world. Despite the development of more efficient airplanes that use less fuel per mile, the overall number of flights has been skyrocketing, and emissions along with them.

For the first time in 2019, airlines in Canada are required to track and report their carbon emissions as part of a national carbon reduction plan. It’s part of an eventual plan to have airlines offset their emissions or reduce them through the use of bio fuels.

While this partnership aims to establish electric planes on short-haul routes, the Canadian Airports Council estimates 80% of greenhouse gas emissions due to aviation comes from flights longer than 1,500 km “for which there is no practical [travel] alternative.”

The magni500 engine is the 750 horsepower engine that will be installed and tested on a Harbour Air de Havilland Beaver later this year (photo: MagniX).

“We’re excited to partner with Harbour Air, a forward thinking, like-minded company that is dedicated to bringing environmentally conscious, cost effective air-transport solutions to the West Coast of North America,” said magniX chief executive Roei Ganzarski. “This partnership will set the standard for the future of commercial aviation operators.”

At a recent conference, Ganzarski gushed about a flight from the Seattle waterfront to the heart of downtown Vancouver, convinced the Harbour Air operation represented the future of aviation between smaller centres.

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