Move Over Electric Vehicles, Electric Airplanes Are Now All the Hype

Graphic of an airplane.

Canadian airline Harbour Air and engine maker magniX are teaming up to create the first fully electronic commercial airplane fleet, in an exciting development for the electric aviation industry.

The companies intend to swap the engine on Harbour Air’s seaplanes for magniX’s electric motor and lithium-ion battery packs, according to a Harbour Air press release. Initial test flights are set to begin in late 2019 and the first aircraft to be converted will be the DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, which holds six-passengers.

This is exciting news, given air travel’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to a January report by Rhodium Group, carbon dioxide emissions in the US rose 3.4 percent in 2018, with the transportation sector as the primary contributor for the third year in a row at 1 percent.

Surprisingly the rise in emissions didn’t come from cars. Instead, robust demand from trucking and air travel drove the increase.

There’s a worldwide focus on swapping combustion engine vehicles for electric vehicles, but this data shows that we can’t just settle for electric cars and expect to substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We need to electrify all types of commonly-used transportation.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine how people will feel comfortable flying in ePlanes given that only a few years ago exploding lithium-ion batteries in Samsung phones were making headlines. And just last month the Trump administration said it was issuing new rules preventing airlines from carrying lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger planes.

It’s going to take a while for the public to feel as safe flying on an ePlane as they might feel driving in an electric vehicle, but this announcement is encouraging. We have no choice but to reduce carbon emissions and it’s heartening to see companies be proactive.