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Campbell River flight school in the forefront of electric aviation history

Sealand Flight and its new plane will be part of trial for electric passenger aircraft

Campbell River may be the point of take-off for the future of commercial electric aircraft in Canada.

Sealand Flight, a flight school based in Campbell River, took possession of an all-electric Velis Electro from Slovenian-Italian manufacturer, Pipistel, on the weekend of Feb. 20. The Velis Electro will be used as part of a pilot program called the Electric Airplane Trial Program created by Transport Canada in 2022. That year, proposals were sent to flight schools interested in adopting electric aircraft and evaluating their capabilities and limitations. Sealand Flight answered the call and was approved in 2023.

“They’re interested in learning how these aircraft are going to be implemented into commercial aviation,” says Mike Andrews, a professional pilot and spokesperson for Sealand Flight. “At the moment, there are electric aircraft that are flying in Canada but there aren’t any that are flying in any commercial capacity that they can charge passengers to fly on them.”

Harbour Air’s Electric Beaver is one of those, making its maiden (test) voyage in 2022 between Richmond and the Saanich Peninsula.

Sealand Flight is working on getting to this stage.

The Velis Electro, and most electric aircraft, have limited battery life. It has a 50-minute charge, with a 10-minute reserve. Andrews estimates it would be enough to take the aircraft to Qualicum Beach, where there will be a charging station. Charging stations will also be in Courtenay and Powell River.

“They aren’t going to be major cross-country machines,” says Andrews. “So we’re working on figuring out what’s possible with them and what’s not, and also what regulations need to change because right now there are regulations that exist on things like you need to have fuel gauges just like a car, or oil gauges … but that doesn’t obviously apply to an electric aircraft just like it doesn’t in an electric vehicle. So there are things that need to change in order to adopt these aircraft, especially in a commercial capacity.”

The flight school bought the airplane roughly three months ago and will be given authority to fly the plane with their pilots for testing. Afterwards, they will be given an exception to take students and paying customers to start doing training flights, with the plan on developing a full-fledged training program in the future.

Sealand plans to fly the aircraft for the first time sometime in March. The flight school is just waiting for a week-long maintenance training course (hosted at the school) through Pipistrel, which will be attended by other flight schools as well as Transport Canada. The school is also waiting for fully developed charging infrastructure to be installed in its hangar as well.

“We’re also hoping to inspire the airport management to create their own public charging infrastructure just like electric vehicle charging infrastructure. They’re all over the place now and it’s largely led by the provincial government too. They just mandated it to increase sustainable infrastructure in travel and that’s what we’re hoping to see with electric airplanes too.”

About the Author: Brendan Jure

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