Even the weather was helping make history on a cold and clear December morning, as a few hundred witnesses gathered on the banks of the Fraser River Tuesday at Vancouver International Airport to watch the world’s first electrically-powered flight of a commercial aircraft.
As the morning sun peeked over the nearby buildings of Richmond, British Columbia, the excitement was palpable. Then, with a woman blurting out “There it is!” the Harbour Air Beaver seaplane, fitted with a magni500 engine, was pushed across the road from its warm hanger and into the frigid waters.
A few minutes later, the plane left the dock, taxied to its departure point, and with news cameras rolling, left the water at 8:25 for a three-minute flight into the record books.
“Today, we made history,” said Greg McDougall, CEO and founder of Harbour Air Seaplanes who was the pilot in command on this momentous day.
“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.”
Harbour Air moved the flight up 24 hours to take advantage of a break in the weather. In issuing a special permit, Transport Canada required good weather for the flight. While the skies were clear for the duration of the flight, soon after it was over, the clouds rolled in.
“In December 1903, the Wright Brothers launched a new era of transportation—the aviation age—with the first flight of a powered aircraft. Today, 116 years later, with the first flight of an all-electric powered commercial aircraft, we launched the electric era of aviation,” said Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX. “The transportation industry and specifically the aviation segment that has been, for the most part, stagnant since the late 1930s, is ripe for a massive disruption. Now we are proving that low-cost, environmentally friendly, commercial electric air travel can be a reality in the very near future.”
LISTEN AND COMPARE: the video on top is a gas-powered Sea Air Beaver leaving the launch for the morning. Below is the electrically-powered Harbour Air ePlane leaving from the same spot. Listen for the engine noise.
The flight climbed to no more than a few hundred feet, the only sound was the beating of the propeller, and smattering of claps as the plane passed.
After three short minutes, the Beaver looped around and returned eastbound for splashdown near the Harbour Air terminal, the flight going off without a hitch.
As the plane hit the water, onlookers began applauding, excited by what had just been accomplished. Vancouver International President and CEO Craig Richmond was one of them.
“It’s fantastic, dawn of a new age. It’s great, it cuts down on greenhouse gasses, it cuts down on noise,” he said, adding that airport executives were looking at ways to cut terminal and landing fees for electric aircraft in the future.
Mission accomplished, and with applause ringing out around them, the two men whose vision led to the electric dream – McDougall and Ganzarski – embraced on the dock.
Harbour Air and magniX now start the process of getting the plane certified for passengers, a process that could take two years. If successful, McDougall plans to electrify the rest of Harbour Air’s fleet.