Harbor Air is already the number 1 seaplane company in North America. The firm claims more than 500 million passengers transported via some 30,000 flights per year. While the electric aviation market does not really exist yet, Harbor Air made an astonishing decision in 2019: to become the world’s first 100% electric airline.
To do this, the company has started to transform its current fleet of seaplanes – small machines with six seats to make them electric. A small feat, because simply replacing the engines and tanks with electric ones is much more complicated than it seems. Nothing is as energy dense as oil and fossil fuels. And the latest generation thermal thrusters are particularly efficient.
Harbor Air has partnered with MagniX to transform its current seaplane fleet
To meet this challenge, Harbor Air therefore failed to find a partner. MagniX, the leader in electric aviation in North America, has therefore decided to take up the challenge. This resulted in a first experimental flight of a modified De Havilland Beaver from the firm in December 2019. The tests have continued since then with the aim of certification from the American (FAA) and Canadian (Transport Canada).
Harbor Air nevertheless took a new step on August 17, 2022: the firm successfully conducted the test of a short air link (72 km between the Harbor Air terminal in Fraser River and Patricia Bay in Vancouver), which could be the one of the first fully electrified connections. The flight lasted a total of 24 minutes. Of course, Harbor Air is a small airline compared to Delta, American Airlines or Air France – KLM.
Nevertheless, what is interesting is that Harbor Air shows that even in the absence of a technical solution already on the market, it already seems possible in 2022, through partnerships, to transform an existing fleet towards electric. If Harbor Air completes its transition, while demonstrating its profitability after this strategic move, industry mindsets could accelerate their embrace of an electric future.
There remains, however, another problem: electrifying small planes like those of Harbor Air is one thing. Switching from Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 (the two aircraft historically most popular with major airlines) to electric versions will still require time and a lot of innovation. On the one hand, there is the issue of energy storage: current batteries have an energy density that is too low.
Read also – The largest electric plane has just successfully completed its first flight
This could promote alternatives, such as hydrogen. But it should be emphasized that many technologies have yet to be invented, in particular an electrical equivalent of current thermal reactors that is truly efficient and commercially viable.