Hybrid commercial trial underway

The California company is working toward a scheduled service solution that runs on traditional aviation fuel, though a lot less of it thanks to the replacement of one of the engines with an electric motor. The Electric EEL has been active this year, expanding its distance envelope in California in October. Ampaire announced December 8 that a monthlong trial is underway in Hawaii.

The Electric EEL flew the first of these flights, a 20-minute hop across Maui, on November 22, according to a press release. Mokulele Airlines, among 15 operators that have signed letters of interest in Ampaire’s hybrid solution, is dispatching regular flights (with no passengers, only crew) to test and demonstrate the system is robust enough to meet the demands of scheduled service. The company noted this is also the first use of the FAA’s new experimental-market survey aircraft category, created to help accelerate market entry of new technology.

Ampaire founder and CEO Kevin Noertker seeks to transform commercial aviation with hybrid-electric aircraft like this converted Cessna 337 Skymaster dubbed the Electric EEL. Photo courtesy of Ampaire.

“We’re following the successful path of hybrid-electric automobiles in transforming ground transportation by taking that model to the sky,” said Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker, in the news release. “By upgrading current aircraft with hybrid-electric propulsion we can enter the market quickly and take advantage of existing infrastructure for fixed-wing aviation.”

Ampaire upgraded its Electric EEL for the Hawaii trials, and the Cessna airframe now sports a 160-kilowatt (215 horsepower) electric motor up front, with a 300-horsepower piston engine in the rear. The electric motor’s contribution is expected to reduce fossil fuel consumption by up to 50 percent. The airline’s hangar was fitted with a 208-volt charger to top off the batteries stored under the fuselage.

Ampaire is also working with the state and the local electric company to plan additional charging infrastructure installations at airports around the islands.

“The future for regional airlines is electric,” said Stan Little, CEO of Southern Airways, which operates one of the largest commuter airlines in the United States and owns Mokulele Airlines, in the news release. “We expect to put hybrid- and all-electric designs into service as soon as possible, and we know other regionals are watching us with great interest.”

Ampaire hopes to eventually scale its hybrid-electric system up to sizes suitable for 19-passenger aircraft.

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