Aviation experts are heralding electric planes as the key to shorter flight paths returning to the skies.
- The new partnership is hoping to have commercial electric flights operating in regional Australia, but that is at least three years away
- Short flights, such as Wagga Wagga to Canberra, operated in the late 1980s but became too expensive
- Manufacturing costs of electric planes could still be a barrier
Rather than host an internal combustion engine like conventional aircraft, electric planes have a motor that is powered by electricity.
Co-founder and CEO of Dovetail Electric Aviation, David Doral, said electric planes could see the return of short-haul flights, because they are cheaper to operate.
The company is partnering with Rex Airlines on a trial in regional Australia, and while their first electric commercial flight is not expected for at least another three years, there is excitement building about what the technology could offer regional communities.
“The cost of electricity is much lower than fuel and the cost of maintenance is also much lower because it’s a much more robust machine without almost any moving parts,” Mr Doral said.
“Our estimates suggest that direct operating costs could be as low as 50 per cent of what it costs to operate conventional aircraft.”
Mr. Doral said that he did not mean tickets would be reduced by half, but there was the potential for lower fares.
He said reducing aircraft operation costs could make shorter routes, like Wagga Wagga to Canberra, and Dubbo to Orange, more appealing to airlines.
“The demand for regional aircraft travel could multiply by 10 if you manage to reduce the operating cost by 40 per cent or more,” he said.
Short trips are a thing of the past
Geoff Breust was formally the chief executive officer at Kendell Airlines and Rex Airlines.
He said Kendell offered the Wagga Wagga to Canberra service in the late 1980s but aircraft technology at the time was not what it is today.
“They were piston aircraft, they were unpressurised, they weren’t very comfortable,” he said.
“With the further development of roads and the costs associated with those kinds of services, the services ended up not being viable and the airlines withdrew from them.”
Mr Breust applauded the work being done in the electric plane space, but said it would be challenging for short-haul trips to return.
He said the small aircraft suitable for those types of flights were not being manufactured anymore because they were costly to build.
“Even if they can reduce the operating cost — by the use of electric motors — substantially, it still comes back to the overall viability of flying the route,” Mr Breust said.
“The capital cost will have a major element in those considerations.”
Supporting regional economies
Dovetail Electric Aviation has partnered with Rex to retrofit some of the airline’s regional planes with electric-propulsion engines, with a trial set to start in 2024.
Mr Doral hoped opening up more flight paths between regional centers would support local economies, as more people travel to them.
“If you give these efficient, fast means of transportation to rural parts of the country and you can help them thrive, you can support the economic activity of those regions,” he said.
Mr Breust said regionalization could help strengthen aviation in places like Wagga Wagga, Albury, Tamworth and Orange.
“The populations of those cities will increase with movement away from the cities and that will demand more and better services to those [regional] cities.”