By Chris Stonor
New Zealand’s first electric aircraft was officially launched last week by Christchurch start-up ElectricAir, reports scoop.co.nz. The plane is a battery-driven electric two-seat light sport aircraft manufactured by Slovenian aircraft company, Pipistrel, and has started demonstration flights from the city of Christchurch in the South Island. Designed as a training aircraft, it is available for people wishing to experience electric flight while learning to fly in a carbon-free way.
ElectricAir Founder Gary Freedman, says the original idea to operate such a craft in New Zealand skies began back in 2016. “I was driving an electric car but flying a petrol plane. It just wasn’t good enough, so I set out to find a solution, he explained. “On the pretence of a family holiday in Slovenia, I visited the Pipistrel factory and flew in the Alpha Electro. I was hooked and the rest is history.”
ElectricAir’s mission is to promote the uptake of electric aircraft to reduce the aviation industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The start-up has received support from Christchurch City Council’s Innovation and Sustainability Fund and the Christchurch Agency for Energy Trust. Kevin Crutchley, the Christchurch City Council Resource Efficiency Manager, said, “This is just the type of innovation that the Council wants to support as it reduces emissions.”
Christchurch Airport has supported the ElectricAir project as another part of its electrification and decarbonisation programme. General Manager of Strategy and Sustainability, Rhys Boswell, enthused that ElectricAir will be the first user. “We use electricity to power jet aircraft while they’re parked on the ground, we offer EV and e-Bike charging stations, so installing e-plane charging infrastructure was a natural next step.”
The actual aircraft being employed is the Pipistrel Alpha Electro. The plane’s battery lasts up to 90 minutes and can be recharged in under an hour making it ideal for pilot training. The craft is approximately 70 percent quieter than its fossil-fuelled equivalents. It is simple and inexpensive to maintain as there are few moving parts. The plane will be charged from a specialist charging station, while operations will take place from Christchurch Airport and the Rangiora Airfield.
ElectricAir believes New Zealand is ideal for electric planes, a country with one of the highest rates of short haul flights per person of any region in the world and an electricity grid powered from predominantly renewable sources. The company has chosen Meridian Energy, one of NZs largest power providers.
Freedman continues, “It’s important that we show our commitment to sustainability and 100% renewable energy generation which is why we have chosen Meridian as our power provider. In addition, Meridian’s Certified Renewable Energy product means that we can report our scope 2 emissions as zero, which really helps reinforce what we are about.”
Meridian’s Chief Customer Officer, Lisa Hannifin added, “We’re proud to have partnered with Electric Air, who like Meridian, understands that electrification of transport is one of the biggest ways that our country can help to combat climate change.”
New Zealand Airways, the flag-carrier of the country, has also thrown its support behind ElectricAir. Airways Head of Public Affairs Emily Davies commented, “By supporting ElectricAir’s operations in controlled airspace, Airways is continuing to help our aviation community explore innovative ways of reducing carbon emissions and aircraft noise while ensuring aviation safety,”
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(News Source: https://www.scoop.co.nz)