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‘CAUSE I’M LEAVIN’ ON A(N) ELECTRIC JET PLANE?

A yellow Harbour Air seaplane glides just above the water of the Fraser River in Vancouver, Canada, mist an mountains in the distance, and a crowd of people on bleachers in front of buildings line the riverbank. The image captured and provided by Harbour Air depicts the first flight by an all-electric commercial aircraft.
Photo by Harbour Air

Perfectly lamented by John Denver in his 1969 folk-rock ballad, air travel has become pretty commonplace and an almost expected activity in society today. With more than 44,000 commercial flights serving more than 2.7 million people every day in the United States alone, that’s a lot of leavin’ on a jet plane by travelers for all sorts of reasons. And with all that travel, we have become quite accustomed to the basic ebb and flow of commercial airplanes as a whole – their sounds (loud), their smells (ew), and their hassle to even get on board (ugh). All-in-all, air travel has been pretty steadfast in the experience it has offered for decades, including how their engines operate (hint: with jet fuel). 

But, what if you had the option for an entirely new flight experience? At least in terms of how that flight gets you from A to B? Seaplane airline Harbour Air, in partnership with magniX, the company responsible for powering the electric aviation revolution, made history in December 2019 – 116 years almost to the day from the first flight recorded by the Wright Brothers, which launched humanity into a new era of transportation that has affected every aspect of life as we know it – with the world’s first flight by an all-electric commercial aircraft. 

The inaugural flight along the Fraser River lasted 15 minutes, and successfully touched down in Vancouver, Canada, at the Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond. It was piloted by Harbour Air CEO and founder Greg McDougall, who said that the historic flight signified the beginning of the third era in aviation: the electric age.

“Today, we made history,” said McDougall. “I am incredibly proud of Harbour Air’s leadership role in redefining 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.”

The ePlane, a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver was unveiled in June 2019, at the Paris Air Show, and is powered by the magni500, a 750hp high-power-density electric propulsion system that offers a clean and efficient means of driving the plane. 

A white Harbour Air seaplane prepares for takeoff from the Fraser River in Vancouver, Canada.
Photo by Harbour Air

“In December 1903, the Wright Brothers launched a new era of transportation—the aviation age—with the first flight of a powered aircraft. Today, 116 years later, with the first flight of an all-electric powered commercial aircraft, we launched the electric era of aviation,” said Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX. “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. Now we are proving that low-cost, environmentally friendly, commercial electric air travel can be a reality in the very near future.”

The implications of electric air travel on the environment are boundless. Aircraft emit exorbitant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere on a daily basis, accounting for about 11% of CO2 emissions from transportation sources and around 3% of total CO2 emissions in the US each year. That is equal to almost half of all CO2 emissions from aircraft worldwide. The impact on climate change by aircraft is compounded each year, and as such a switch to electrically powered planes could offer benefits that reach far and wide.

The next step in bringing the ePlane into regular, commercial use that can carry passengers is to obtain certification and approval for the propulsion system and retrofitting of aircraft with it. Once certified, Harbour Air and magniX can start the process of expanding their fleet with the revolutionary all-electric propulsion technology. After that? You may just be able to catch an eFlight and take part in the next era of travel!