Harbour Air conducts first test flight of all-electric seaplane

Harbour Air says it successfully conducted the first test flight of an all-electric seaplane on Dec. 10. Image: Harbour Air

Richmond, B.C.-based Harbour Air says it successfully conducted the first test flight of an all-electric seaplane on Tuesday.

The company reported that CEO and founder Greg McDougall piloted the e-plane himself for the inaugural flight out of the floatplane harbour at Sea Island on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River.

“Today, we made history,” McDougall said in a press release. “I am incredibly proud of Harbour Air’s leadership role in re-defining safety and innovation in the aviation and seaplane industry. Canada has long held an iconic role in the history of aviation, and to be part of this incredible world-first milestone is something we can all be really proud of.”

Harbour Air has been working with magniX in Washington to outfit one of its harbour-to-harbour seaplanes with an electric motor. A six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver was outfitted with a 750-horsepower (560 kilowatt) magni500 electric motor made by magniX.

The flight marks an important milestone. Aviation, which produces about 2% of the world's carbon emissions, presents a particular problem when it comes to decarbonization of transportation, since there are issues with the energy densities of batteries to provide the kind of power needed to get an airplane – especially one with passengers and cargo -- into the air.

MagniX appears to have addressed some of the power density issues, at least for smaller planes and shorter distances. Harbour Air's seaplanes typically make short trips, between Vancouver and Victoria, Seattle, Nanaimo, the Gulf Islands, Whistler, Tofino and Sechelt.

“I’ve been convinced for some period of time that the future of transportation in general, and certainly aviation, is electrified,” McDougall, said in a corporate video.

“The transportation industry and specifically the aviation segment that has been, for the most part, stagnant since the late 1930s, is ripe for a massive disruption," Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, said in a press release. "Now we are proving that low-cost, environmentally friendly, commercial electric air travel can be a reality in the very near future.”

— Business in Vancouver