Charged Up Down Under

April 16, 2021
Sydney Seaplanes is launching a new airline, Alt Air, with planes to be powered by magniX’s electric propulsions systems.

There’s soon to be electricity in the skies over Australia. Alt Air is the name of the new airline being operated by Sydney Seaplanes and it has entered into a partnership with magniX – the maker of a range of electric propulsion solutions, including motors and power electronics, for aircraft.

“As the only company that’s already powered and flown two all-electric magnified commercial aircrafts, magniX is the ideal partner to help us not only electrify our planes but build toward an electric future that benefits our travelers and the environment. This trilateral partnership means Sydney Seaplanes will play an integral role in certifying, adopting and distributing nil emission aviation services and technology,” said Sydney Seaplane CEO, Aaron Shaw.

Roei Ganzarski, magniX CEO, said that the company is not only used to working with the kinds of planes Sydney Seaplanes operates, Cessna Caravans, but amphibious planes were the first to sport magniX’s propulsions systems.

“The first two aircraft we flew, one of which we’re still flying today, one was an amphibious plane, a seaplane, in this case it was a deHavilland Beaver, that we do with Harbour Air, which is similar to Sydney Seaplanes in Australia, they are a seaplane airline in Vancouver, British Columbia. The second plane was a Cessna Caravan. It was land-based, but a Cessna Caravan,” he said. “We became the only company in the world to have ever flown all-electric planes of that size and scale, and do it all electrically both over the water, on a seaplane, and with a Cessna Caravan.”

Ganzarski said that after these successful flights, magniX began reaching out to various operators, one being Sydney Seaplanes, to explain the benefit of going electric. Alt Air’s planes will utilize the same propulsion system as the prior planes.

“We got together with various operators, one of them being Sydney Seaplanes, and said, 'Hey, this may be something that's of interest.' For a few reasons. One, the operating costs we showed on operating a Caravan electric versus internal combustion are significantly lower, so that's very attractive to an operator. Two, with today's limitations on batteries, because batteries are not where we would like them to be at, but even with today's limitations on batteries, you can still get some niche performance, I'll call it, out of the Caravan or the Beaver. Niche performance that's good enough for someone like Harbour Air,” said Ganzarski.

magniX’s propulsion system can fly between 100 and 150 miles with today’s batteries. For an operator like Sydney Seaplanes that flies less than that per flight, the cost and environmental benefits are great. As Ganzarski explained, shorter flights use more fuel and more emissions are spent as a percentage of the flight. This is because the majority of fuel is spent on takeoff and climb, along with the majority of emissions.

“So, if you think of a two hour flight, where your takeoff and climb is fairly short out of the two hours, that's less of a critical aspect. When your flight is 10, 15, 20 minutes long, and the majority of that is your takeoff and climb, on a percentage basis, you're spending a lot of fuel and emissions for a very short flight. And yet with electric, the short flight is not a limitation, because that's what it can do. And yet you're saving all of the fuel and emissions from those critical aspects of the fight, so it was a win-win for everybody,” he continued.

The Alt Air fleet will be comprise of 15 seat Twin Otters and 12 seat Cessna Caravans.

“As we add more fully electric planes to our fleet once regulatory approvals are complete, passengers will also enjoy an incomparably green and quiet commercial aviation experience,” Shaw said. “After more than a decade of flying thousands of passengers over stunning views around the Sydney Harbour, we’re delighted to take our next step into the future of flight.”

Getting Airborne

Ganzarski said that equipping the planes with magniX’s electric propulsion systems comes in two parts, the physical and regulatory work.

“The Cessna Caravan today, the seaplanes that Sydney Seaplanes have, have an internal combustion engine upfront, very large, heavy, clunky,” said Ganzarski. “It has a gearbox, because the internal combustion engines, to produce power, have to turn at very high speeds, so it has what's called a reduction gearbox, that takes the high speed of the engine down to the lower required speeds of the propeller.

“We take that off, we take out the entire oil system, lubrication system, etc., that goes with that internal combustion engine off. We take out the fuel tanks and all of the fuel lines and fuel systems out of that aircraft as well. So you take those out, and what you do is instead you put in, instead of the fuel system, you put in batteries, instead of the fuel lines you put in electric cable or wiring, and then upfront, instead of the internal combustion engine, you put in the electric motor and the power electronics, or together, what's known as the electric propulsion system.”

Optionally, the plane’s propeller can also be changed to an optimized one.

“Then you integrate that all together, add in a Human Machine Interface (HMI). Think of it as a screen that the pilot can see all of the new data coming in from the electric propulsion system, the power from the electrical propulsion system, the batteries, etc. Then mechanically, you're good to go,” said Ganzarski.

Then comes the regulatory side, which has two steps to it. One is the propulsion certification, that magniX takes care of on their.

“We plan to finish by 2022, which is we prove to them that our propulsion system is as safe, if not more, as reliable, if not more than the internal combustion engines today in the marketplace. That includes all sorts of tests that we go through, analysis, etc.,” Ganzarski said.

And quickly afterwards, Sydney Seaplanes can get their supplemental type certificate (STC) on the aircraft.

“They will do that process and they will own that STC,” Ganzarski said. “Sydney Seaplanes will own the STC, with CASA Australia approving it, they will own that STC for modifying the Caravan. So then if someone else also has a Caravan, they can come to Sydney Seaplanes and have Sydney Seaplanes do the modifications for them as well. So, for Sydney Seaplanes, not only can they do their own aircraft, that can also be a source of business for them to do other people's aircraft.”

The STC is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2023, Shaw noted.

All Electric, Little Maintenance

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of propulsion sans fossil fuel, the electrically equipped planes will require far less maintenance than their oily counterparts, as well.  

“The internal combustion engines of today's aircraft are very maintenance prone, require ongoing checks and maintenance, and then of course, eventually, on an ongoing basis, overhauls, a lot of, lot of work, because they have a lot of moving parts at very high speed, lots of friction at very high temperatures, so you have a lot of things going on that require maintenance,” Ganzarski said.

“The electric plane has one moving part in the motor, very few parts, very slow turning and very low temperature. So, from that perspective, there's less wear and tear, if at all, there's no friction, there's no need for lubrication – so there's no oil changes for lubrication and so on and so forth. From a maintenance perspective, there's significantly less,” he continued.

Charging the planes is also just as simple. magniX is designing its systems to utilize the same charging capabilities as that of electric cars already on the market.

“So be it car or truck chargers, we're using that same technology. From that perspective, Sydney Seaplanes will be able to install these types of chargers at their ports or at their docks,” Ganzarski said. “And when a plane arrives, just like with an electric car, you open up the cover, plug in the charger, you can do one or two, depending on how you set up the aircraft, and charge the aircraft.

“And while you're charging it, just like with a car, because it's such a high safety level, while you're charging it, people can be deplaning or boarding, you can be taking off packages or loading packages. So from that perspective, there's a great advantage that you can be in and around the aircraft while it's charging, just like you can with an electric car.”

About the Author

Walker Jaroch | Editor

Contact: Walker Jaroch

Editor | AMT

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