It’s a first for aviation, Harbour Air’s ePlane.
The historic De Havilland Beaver was converted to fully electric power in 2019, making its first flight in December of that year. It was a mammoth task to get the plane in the air.
“We’ve spent a lot of days digging through incredibly difficult issues, trying to find solutions to issues, trying to solve problems with regulations that don’t exist yet,” says project manager and lead engineer Erika Holtz.
Part of the challenge was finding batteries that were light enough to allow the aircraft to take off and fly.
“With an airplane, we have to keep it light, and so the airplane’s always on a diet,” says Harbour Air’s vice president of maintenance and manufacturing, Shawn Braiden.
“You’re doing everything you can to keep the airplane as light as possible so that it’s got the most useful load that you can possibly get out of it and still have a decent range.”
Since its first flight with the groundbreaking technology in place, the plane has made nearly 80 test flights, mostly around its Richmond base.
This spring, the Electric Beaver is helping celebrate Earth Day with stops in Vancouver, Salt Spring Island and Harbour Air’s Victoria terminal for the first time.
“It’s great to be able to debut the plane at the places it’s going to fly and have people look at it, and we’ve had a tremendous reception here, lots of people coming down to see it,” says Harbour Air founder and ePlane pilot Greg McDougall.
There’s still more work to be done, with engineers working with various regulators to get the aircraft properly certified. Still, the plan continues to be an important test bed for the company’s aspirations of offering electric passenger service.
“We’re now looking at sort of a two-year horizon to get this certified and the really exciting thing about it is that Canada can be the first in the world to carry an electric aviation passenger,” says McDougall.
Until that day, the project will keep humming along.