The proposed seaplane service to Canberra is set to become all-electric after the company involved signed a strategic partnership with regional airline Rex to pioneer the conversion of turbine powered aircraft to zero-emission propulsion.
Sydney Seaplanes company Dovetail Electric and Rex plan to develop and certify the retrofitting of electric engines on to legacy aircraft, initially for regional and general aviation use.
Sydney Seaplanes-owned Alt Air wants to provide commercial seaplanes services between Lake Burley Griffin and Rose Bay, Sydney, and would adopt the new technology.
Dovetail was formed last year by Sydney Aviation Holdings, owners of Sydney Seaplanes and Dante Aeronautical, a start-up pioneering disruptive electric aviation concepts with a presence in Spain and Australia.
Aircraft will be converted using MagniX engines for which Dovetail is the exclusive distributor in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Mediterranean Europe.
They are expected to be 30-40 per cent quieter than their donor planes, a selling point for operating on the lake, and 40 per cent cheaper to run.
The propulsion system will integrate the electric motor, battery packs and hydrogen fuel cells into one ‘drive-train’ on an existing airframe.
The partnership will generate unique intellectual property in conversion engineering, testing technology and power plant machine learning to optimise performance.
The partners believe conversion of turbine aircraft to electric propulsion promises to bring zero-emissions aviation into the mainstream much faster and more cost effectively than via newly commissioned electrical planes.
Dovetail expects to achieve certification for converted aircraft within four years, compared with more than eight to 10 years for new electric aircraft, and at a fraction of the certification costs.
Rex will provide a test aircraft for the project and support facilities including engineering and technical assistance, maintenance, repair and overhaul support as well as storage facilities and workforce accommodation.
Sydney Aviation Holdings CEO Aaron Shaw said the initiative promised to put Australia on the map as a global leader in the conversion, certification, and maintenance of electric aircraft.
“For the first commercial electric flight to occur on such an historically important aviation site as Rose Bay just adds to our enthusiasm for this groundbreaking project,” he said.
“Our vision is to lead regional aviation across the world into an exciting, new sustainable era before leveraging the IP, approvals and facilities we establish into larger aircraft and longer flights as improvements in electric propulsion technology enable.”
Rex Deputy Chair John Sharp said the airline was excited to be at the forefront of developments in sustainable regional aviation and helping national efforts in achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Mr Sharp said regional airlines operating short sectors as well as seaplanes and training aircraft would be the early adopters of electric battery propulsion.
“Australia, with its very high utilisation of regional aviation and large number of aircraft capable of conversion, is a perfect incubator for the electric aviation industry,” he said.
“Significantly lower operating costs of electric aircraft will also help to stimulate regional aviation services between communities not currently served by scheduled flights.
“Dovetail promises to deliver the holy grail in aviation: true sustainability; lower maintenance and operating costs and also less waste as a function of the reuse of existing aircraft.”
The National Capital Authority gave qualified backing to the seaplane proposal last December and is conducting further work – including lake user guidelines, infrastructure needs and licensing conditions to protect heritage values – before making a final decision in the last quarter of 2022.
The seaplanes proposal has been controversial with most consultation submissions opposed to the idea, although the ACT Government and the tourism industry have been supportive.