British Columbia

All systems go: 1st all-electric commercial seaplane takes flight in B.C.

Vancouver-based Harbour Air on Tuesday completed the first test fight of an all-electric commercial seaplane.

Harbour Air's refitted DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver spent about 3 minutes in air

Harbour Air successfully tested the world's first all-electric seaplane Tuesday morning in Richmond, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It was a short but historic moment on the Fraser River on Tuesday morning as Vancouver-based Harbour Air completed the debut test flight of what aims to be the world's first fully electric commercial aircraft.

Harbour Air founder and chief executive Greg McDougall took off solo in the bright yellow retrofitted DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver float plane, and spent three minutes in the air over Richmond, B.C., before circling back and landing in front of a crowd of roughly 120 onlookers and media.

"It was good, like a Beaver on electric steroids," said McDougall, smiling on the dock immediately after the flight. "It was definitely smooth and a lot quieter than the piston [engine], that's for sure."

McDougall's flight is the first exercise in what is expected to be a two-year process to get the e-plane certified for commercial use.

Watch the maiden test flight

Harbour Air's new fully electric seaplane flew over the Fraser River for three minutes today in its debut test flight. 0:26

Harbour Air joined with Seattle-based company MagniX 11 months ago to design the e-plane's propulsion system, which is powered by NASA-approved lithium-ion batteries that were also used on the International Space Station. 

"It's a prototype for sure," said McDougall, "but in every way it's a high-tech piece of equipment, which is kind of ironic considering the airframe that it's attached to is actually one year younger than me — 62 years old." 

MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said Dec. 10, 2019, will go down in history as the start of the electric aviation age, and believes the e-plane will eventually revolutionize how people travel by making short to mid-range flights more economical than driving. 

The e-plane took off from the Fraser River and flew over Richmond, B.C., for about three minutes before landing in front of onlookers and assembled media. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It means you can stop driving for three, five, seven hours to get to a destination because there's no other way to get there," he said.

"It means you can fly in a small aircraft from a small airport to a small airport.... It's faster, cheaper and more convenient than any other method of travel, including going with a standard airline." 

According to Ganzarski, the electric motor in the e-plane is a standard design that was adapted to work reliably on an aircraft to provide the power and torque needed to fly, but at a minimum weight.

McDougall said there will be dozens of test flights to come to meet the certification requirements.

"Today is a milestone and this aircraft is now a test-bed for all the things we need to do to get the regulatory side of it done as well," he said.

Corrections

  • The headline for a previous version of this story omitted the word "commercial." While test flights of all-electric planes have previously taken place, this story describes the first test flight of an electric plane intended for commercial use. The word "commercial" has since been reinstated in the headline.
    Dec 13, 2019 4:18 PM PT

About the Author

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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