Regional Australian airline Rex could start offering all-electric flights shortly after closing a deal to equip some of its existing aircraft fleet with electric propulsion.
Rex this week announced a partnership with Australia’s Dovetail Electric Aviation to “pioneer” the conversion of turbine-powered aircraft to electric and zero-emission propulsion.
Under the partnership, part of Rex’s legacy aircraft fleet will be equipped with MagniX electric motors, including the installation of electrically powered propulsion, battery systems and hydrogen fuel cells in aircraft.
According to Dovetail, the converted aircraft would benefit from 40 percent lower operating costs and 30 to 40 percent less noise.
Rex said it would provide the aircraft to be used as a pilot conversion to electric – expected to come from its fleet of Saab 340 aircraft – along with support services that leverage its existing engineering and technical expertise.
Rex Airlines deputy chairman John Sharp said the partnership would help put the airline at the forefront of decarbonising air travel.
“Rex is both proud and excited to be at the forefront of developments in sustainable regional aviation and to help our national efforts reach the net-zero emissions target by 2050,” said Sharp.
“Regional airlines operating short sectors as well as seaplanes and training aircraft will be the first users of battery electric propulsion. Australia, with its very high use of regional aviation and a large number of aircraft that can be converted, is a perfect incubator for the electric aviation industry.”
“Significantly lower operating costs of electric aircraft will also help boost regional airline services between communities not currently served by scheduled flights.”
Air travel is generally seen as an industry that is ‘hard to reduce’, as zero emission technologies such as electric propulsion are still relatively unproven. Some airlines have experimented with using biofuels to offset the use of fossil fuel jet fuels, but higher costs and lack of availability at scale have also limited their use.
Major aviation manufacturers are actively considering developing zero-emission aircraft technologies, including European giant Airbus which is actively researching the development of green hydrogen fueled aircraft.
However, Australian aviation giant Qantas has admitted that electrification of its own fleet could be “several decades” away. However, many experts say electric planes will be limited to short regional routes.
Rex currently operates a fleet of small to medium-sized aircraft that primarily serve regional airports, including flights connecting regional centers to major capital cities.
Sydney Aviation Holdings CEO Aaron Shaw – which owns Dovetail – said the company hopes to tap into the substantial global air travel market and aims to open conversion centers in Australia, Europe and Singapore following the successful certification of its electric propulsion technologies, with further expansion to the United States and the Middle East also possible.
“Our vision is to lead regional aviation around the world into an exciting new sustainable era before leveraging the IP, approvals and facilities we are deploying in larger aircraft and longer flights as improvements in electric propulsion technology make it possible. “
Dovetail said the retrofit of electric propulsion into existing aircraft could speed up the certification process for electric aircraft, which could be achieved in just four years, compared to an expected eight to 10 year certification process for electric aircraft developed and built from scratch. .
Michael Mazengarb is a Sydney-based reporter at RenewEconomy, writing about climate change, clean energy, electric vehicles and politics. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in climate and energy policy for over ten years.