LONDON – North America’s largest seaplane airline (Harbour Air) bid to become the world’s first certified all-electric commercial airplane is now being pushed back due to supply-chain issues.
Whilst on the certification side, the airline is working closely to certify its electric Beaver (eBeaver) plane through a supplemental type certificate (STC) program in Canada.
Harbour Air has teamed up with MagniX, a company specialising in manufacturing: electric propulsion units (EPUs) for aircraft engines.
Harbour Air has also brought in H55, a Swiss-based company specialising in electric aircraft. These companies are experts in aviation certified modular battery storage and battery management systems.
Greg McDougall, CEO of Harbour Air expressed his concerns about the delays in the supply chain. Lots of electronic components which are crucial for the engine parts are mainly from China, and they remain on backorder.
The current series of COVID restrictions in China and border restrictions helped increased the frustration and backlogs. Harbour Air is also awaiting a new motor from propulsion partner MagniX to arrive.
This propulsion will be used for ground test vehicles for the second flying eBeaver prototype.
In the meantime, the seaplane operator will eventually fly in revenue services its first eBeaver utilising a battery system, which is not as high-tech compared to the delayed-incoming system.
The battery system is limited to 20 minutes of missions per test flight while aiming to maintain 50% power reserves.
The company’s top brass commented: “That battery system was not really designed for range; it was designed for safety”.
“It’s something that was used aboard space stations and has a very heavy thermal runaway fire suppression system in it…and the airplane is basically right at [maximum] gross weight with just a pilot on board.”
Moreover, the airline is also expecting a new battery system from H55. McDougall commented on their technology as advanced and offering greater performance efficiencies. He stated that:
“There’s a whole bunch of things that change there in terms of efficiencies, but not least of which the chemistry of the battery doesn’t require all that fire suppression and thermal runway [protection],” he said.
“So at the end of the day, we’re looking at a 50 per cent change in the efficiency of the battery.”
The new battery is to enhance improved battery systems which will enable to carry three passengers as a pilot in the second prototype eBeaver.
McDougall further expressed his frustration: “We can’t do anything without the motor and the battery pack,” said McDougall.
“I’m just the guy at the end of the line here that’s getting the dates pushed, but the actual details of exactly what the issues are and exactly what things they can’t get I’m not fully cognizant of.”
“But I do know that’s what’s slowing us down. We’re gung-ho here; we have the funding; we have the people; we have everything. We’re ready to go.”
The airline in the longer term, sees a possibility in a clean-sheet eSTOL seaplane, in which Harbour Air has partnered with Airflow, a San Francisco – based firm.
Eventually, the eSTOLs by Airflow would eventually replace the Twin Otters and the Cessna Caravans which will see a gradual decline in the conversion of ICE to electric motors.