12 July 2021

More on Sounds Air's Electric Plan(e)s


Marlborough-based regional airline Sounds Air has... ambitious plans, with a goal of flying electric passenger aircraft on regional routes by 2026. In September, it signed a letter of intent with Swedish company Heart Aerospace to purchase an electric 19-seat, ES-19 aircraft, once they become available. The ES-19 is not yet in production. Sounds Air chairman Rhyan Wardman says the idea to buy electric aircraft came about two years ago when he saw images of electric aircraft prototypes under design. “We realised quite quickly that the early adopters of this technology will be the small regional airlines such as ourselves,” Wardman says. The ES-19 planes will each cost about US$8 million (NZ$11.4m), slightly more than a comparable gas turbine engine aircraft, but operating costs will be far less, he says. Aside from the fuel cost savings, there are also huge maintenance savings, he says. For example an electric engine will need to be overhauled only every 20,000 hours of flying, compared to an equivalent gas turbine engine, which needs to be overhauled every 7000 hours, he says. “The economics are just so overwhelming it just becomes a no brainer.” Sounds Air’s route network stems from Taupō to Wanaka, with its main hub in Wellington. It carries about 120,000 passengers a year and has 10 aircraft: Six nine-seater Pilatus PC-12s and four 12-seater Cessna Caravans. The Pilatus have a range of about 1400 kilometres and the Cessna's about 670km. The ES-19 will have a range of 400km. Wardman says it will take time for the battery range of electric aircraft to improve, but the ES-19 will be ideal for its “short hop sectors” like Nelson to Wellington, which takes about 30 minutes. After landing the aircraft’s battery can be charged at an airport in 45 minutes before making its next flight. Which raises an important question: Who will pay for the charging infrastructure? “We wouldn't be able to take on that burden,” Wardman says. He says airports serviced by electric aircraft will need to cover the cost of chargers, each worth about $500,000, plus installation. Customers' expectations about air travel are going to change as people become more conscious of their carbon footprint, he says. “Their value set will demand of us to provide them a decarbonised transport solution.” Wardman says there are many companies around the world developing electric aircraft and Sounds Air is talking to a range of developers, but Heart Aerospace is at the forefront. The next step is to formalise an arrangement with a manufacturer, he says. “This is a very active space. The decarbonisation of aviation is an ambition for many airlines.” Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran recently said it was possible the national carrier could be flying an electric aircraft commercially within three years.  ”We’re probably going to need to look at electrifying our domestic fleet or invest in green hydrogen electric planes,” Foran said. Wardman says he does not expect airfares for regional flights serviced by electric aircraft to be any more or less expensive. Electric engines create less vibration, offering passengers a smoother and quieter flight and create less noise pollution for communities surrounding airports, he says. Wardman says his aim is for Sounds Air to be New Zealand’s first commercial operator of commercial electric aircraft.

Source : https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/125663239/electric-passenger-aircraft-on-the-horizon-for-regional-routes-aviation-industry-says

No comments:

Post a Comment