NZ's first electric plane set for take-off at Christchurch Airport

The Pipistrel Alpha Electro. Photo: Supplied
The Pipistrel Alpha Electro. Photo: Supplied
New Zealand’s first electric aeroplane will be unveiled at Christchurch Airport tomorrow.

The two-seater Alpha Electro trainer has been bought from Slovenian manufacturer Pipistrel by locally-based company Electric Air.

Gary Freedman.
Gary Freedman.
Electric Air founder Gary Freedman refused to comment ahead of the unveiling. However, he said last month the plane would be a “stepping stone” to short-haul commercial flights using electric aircraft.

The Alpha is understood to be the only commercially available electric plane in the world, with the exception of electric motor-gliders.

It can fly for at least one hour before its battery needs recharging or replacing. The battery weighs 126kg, but the motor just 11kg.

The city council gave Electric Air $40,000 to purchase the aircraft and help it become a “local catalyst for this technology and future opportunities.”

The two-seater Alpha Electro can fly for at least one hour before its battery needs recharging....
The two-seater Alpha Electro can fly for at least one hour before its battery needs recharging. Photo: Supplied
Aviation commentator and former chief executive of the Aviation Industry Association Irene King thought this was exciting news for New Zealand’s air-based industry.

“I think we are going to see more and more prototyping of various commercial operations in New Zealand,” she said.

“I think it is do-able for small [electrically powered] commercial aircraft and private flying to happen within the five-year horizon.”

She thought electrically powered aircraft could provide a massive boost to the country’s economy.

“We have multiple uses for smaller aircraft. From tourism to deployment for agricultural operations such as the application of fertilizers and sprays on farms. If we can get the cost of those operations down, that would be of major benefit to the New Zealand economy.”

The two-seater Alpha Electro can fly for at least one hour before its battery needs recharging....
The two-seater Alpha Electro can fly for at least one hour before its battery needs recharging. Photo: Supplied
As a country, New Zealand has more control over the price of electricity than fuel used to power conventional aircraft, she said.

“As much as this is about protecting the environment, it is also about controlling and cutting costs, and in New Zealand electricity is much more of a controllable cost than hydrocarbon.

“You have got to say that anything that substitutes hydrocarbon with a product that we produce within our own economy is just an absolute no-brainer.”

While King saw small electrically powered commercial aircraft as a not too distant reality, she thought larger planes able to take on some of the domestic travel load were still 10 to 15 years away.

“The biggest issue with those bigger aircraft is the certification regime. I would not expect to see them within five years, it could be 10 to 15 years. The Boeing 737 we are all very familiar with is a product of the 70s, that is how long it can take for these things to develop.”

Sounds Air is currently endeavouring to become the first regional airline to offer zero-emission flights. It has signed a letter of intent to purchase electric planes from Swedish company Heart Aerospace, which is aiming to manufacture 19-seat, ES-19 aircraft for commercial flights in 2026.

The “eCaravan” is currently the largest electrically-powered plane in the world. It made aviation history in June when it took flight with the ability to carry nine passengers.

 

 

 

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