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A Souped-Up Seaplane Made the World’s First Fully Electric Commercial Flight

Electric cars and motorcycles get a lot of attention and are already rolling on streets across the globe, but land-based vehicles aren’t the only ones trading in gas engines for a battery pack. Planes are getting juiced up, too. On Tuesday, Canadian airline Harbour Air Seaplanes made the first ever fully electric commercial flight, CNN reports. Although it was just a short hop—the plane was in the air for less than 15 minutes—the airline called it a “world-first milestone” for electric flight, according to a statement.

“Today, we made history,” said Greg McDougall, CEO of Harbour Air Seaplanes and the pilot of the plane.

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The airline used a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, a popular bush plane in Canada and around the world, that had its internal combustion engine swapped for a 750-horsepower electric motor developed by magniX, an American electric motor manufacturer. McDougall’s flight took place over the Fraser River in Vancouver, where Harbour Air has its seaplane terminal. Although it was a short journey on a small plane, the people involved with the project see it as the beginning of a new era.

“This proves that commercial aviation in all-electric form can work,” Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, told AFP. “This signifies the start of the electric aviation age.”

And now they’re working to make those predictions come true. According to the statement from Harbour Air, the two companies have now begun the process to certify and approve the modified plane so they can retrofit the rest of the airline’s fleet (which includes over 40 aircraft) with electric motors from magniX. Currently, the airline operates up to 300 daily flights to 12 different destinations.

Harbour Air Group HANDOUT/EPA-EFE / Shutterstock
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Compared to a traditional engine, the electric motor has no carbon emissions, reduced noise, and it eliminates the need for fueling. But from the pilot’s perspective, the souped-up Beaver isn’t just eco-friendly. It also adds some extra zip to the 62-year-old plane.

“For me that flight was just like flying a Beaver,” McDougall told AFP, “but it was a Beaver on electric steroids. I actually had to back off on the power.”


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