Air Tindi has agreed to supply an aircraft for a Nasa program that aims to get a hybrid electric aircraft off the ground by 2025.
Nasa, Air Tindi and two electric propulsion specialists – AeroTec and MagniX – will partner to convert one of the airline’s De Havilland Dash-7 passenger aircraft into a hybrid.
Nasa has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in its Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration program, which ultimately seeks to bring electric power to US airlines’ fleets by 2035.
Air Tindi president Chris Reynolds told Cabin Radio the Dash-7 was the “perfect platform” for a hybrid aircraft, mostly because of its four engines.
“You can use two conventionally powered engines and two hybrid-powered engines, so it reduces a lot of the risk,” Reynolds said.
The Dash-7 also doesn’t require much runway for takeoff, Reynolds added, reducing concern if a hybrid test version of the aircraft is underpowered.
“We’re the largest Dash-7 operator in the world. They approached us and asked us if we’d be interested,” he said.
“They’d like us to be involved every step of the way, consult with them and give our advice on real-world operation of it because our people know the airframe so well. We’ll have a front-row seat for the next three years.”
In a news release last week, MagniX said an Air Tindi Dash-7 will be equipped with two Pratt & Whitney PT6 engines, which use regular aviation fuel, and two of the company’s Magni650 electric propulsion units.
Nasa’s Lee Noble, quoted in that news release, said the project would be an “exciting collaboration with industry partners to advance electrified aircraft propulsion in order to expedite the use of hybrid-electric systems for commercial air travel.”
Reynolds said the three-year project showed Nasa “providing the spark for the industry” but cautioned that he doesn’t expect hybrid technology to change northern aviation in the near future.
“In the North, it’s so far between airports. This is going to see more use for shorter legs between communities and then, as more people use it and if there’s a North American manufacturer, it’s going to take off,” he said.
“The technology is going to take a long time to be super-useful for the far places we go to, but it has to start somewhere and it’s neat to be a part of it.”
Eventually, Reynolds said, hybrid aircraft could help to improve northern residents’ cost of living and food security.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s like drone technology, you can’t ignore it. One day it’ll be good enough to really reduce the cost of living in the North.
“It’s not there yet but we can’t be last to adapt because we’re far away, right? Let’s be involved and see what happens.”