Historic Commercial Electric Plane Flight

On the Tuesday morning of December 10, 2019, the seaplane DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver took off from the Harbour Air airport to fly along the Fraser River before landing approximately 15 minutes later at the same airport. A crowd of 100 were amazed. The 62-year-old plane accommodates up to six passengers and has made many flights over the years. But, this was the first flight made since the plane was modified to be powered by an electric engine.

The Beaver was fitted with a Magni500, 750 horsepower motor. Pilot and Harbor Air chief executive Greg McDougall flew the modified Beaver on her maiden voyage. He was impressed with the engine’s performance. McDougall likened the experience to flying a plane on electric steroids. The executive shared that they planned to equip their entire fleet of 40 seaplanes with electric motors in the future.

He explained that in addition to being more fuel-efficient, electric motors would save the facility millions of dollars normally needed for maintenance costs. Electric motors have far fewer maintenance requirements. But, battery-powered motors also present a challenge. The Beaver equipped with the electric motor and lithium-ion battery is only able to fly up to 160 kilometers or approximately 99.5 miles. However, the flight time that the battery pack provides is deemed sufficient for the short flights flown by the Harbour Air seaplanes, which involve routes around the Strait of George in British Columbia.

The airport’s plan will not come to fruition for at least two years. The e-plane concept must undergo further testing to verify whether the modifications are reliable and safe. McDougall explained that the motor must also receive approval and certification by aeronautic regulators. Once the airport receives the go-ahead, they plan to equip the remaining planes and begin commercial flights in 2022.

MagniX was the company that manufactured the engine installed in the Beaver. The start-up company has been meeting with other airlines. Working with Harbour Air was a first step in enabling MagniX to become a leader in the avionic electric motor industry. The company also produces smaller motors known as the Magni250. The motors are to be installed in Eviation Alice aircraft, which is based in Israel. The planes were constructed to be electrically powered and readily accommodate up to nine passengers.