When I think about planes running on solar or electric energy, it feels like the stuff of “the distant future”.
I am thrilled to report that real electric planes are happening people, right here in our islands! I heard about Ampaire on Hawaii Public Radio (HPR), and it made me so hopeful for new technologies emerging to combat climate change.
Ampaire is a company based in LA, but they have partnered with Mokulele Airlines right here in Hawaii. They retrofit 6 to 9 seater Cessna aircraft. Their goal is to demonstrate the sustainability and low cost of electric planes on short-haul flights (weekend getaway from Oahu to Maui anyone?) After going after this low hanging fruit, their goal is to retrofit and tackle longer range commercial aircraft. Why a retrofit rather than a plane from scratch? According to Kevin Noertker, the cofounder and CEO of Ampaire, “the core of the mission for our company is to build practical and compelling products that bring meaningful solutions as quickly as possible.” Well said.
Interestingly, their push is to start fully electric, rather than hybrid: the economic benefit from fuel and maintenance is more fully realized with an all electric airplane. These electric planes can achieve higher altitude where there is less air resistance (unlike ICE engines), have a higher rate of climb, and will be quieter. One issue has to deal with charging, and multiple electric plane companies are considering a battery swap out option until technology evolves. Currently, jet fuel yields about 43 times more energy than an equivalent mass of battery, according to this Tech Crunch article.
The cool thing about Ampaire is that by partnering with Mokulele here in Hawaii, we can actually begin to see change right here in the islands. That 20 minute 100 mile hop from Honolulu to Kahului would be an ideal distance for electric. The first test run, according to HPR, will be from Hana to Kahului.
By 2021–as soon as the company gets FAA approval–passengers will be able to book a flight on one of the planes.