Camarillo Airport serves as base for the debut of Ampaire’s Eco Caravan

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Marking a milestone for hybrid-electric flight, Ampaire’s Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional aircraft, has made its first flight operating a fully-integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system. The flight, which lasted 33 minutes, took off from Camarillo Airport in California on 18 November.

With certification expected in 2024, Ampaire is hoping the Eco Caravan will be the first electrified regional carrier to enter commercial service. It will also be the first in a series of larger Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft that will help aviation transition to a lower carbon future.

Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker commented: “Aviation is the hardest industry to decarbonise. Fully-electric aircraft are range limited because of the weight and energy capacity of current-generation batteries. Hybrid-electric aircraft, however, can preserve the range and utility of today’s aircraft. That is why we are focused on hybrid-electric propulsion for a series of increasingly capable regional aircraft. It’s a way for the airline industry to decarbonise more quickly and also to benefit from lower operating costs.”

An upgrade of the standard Cessna Grand Caravan, the Eco Caravan features Ampaire’s integrated propulsion system of a compression ignition engine and an electric engine. A battery pack in a body fairing preserves passenger and cargo capacity for the aircraft.

Flown by test pilot Elliot Seguin (pictured), the flight took from Camarillo Airport , which is situated just north of Los Angeles, at 7.49 Pacific Time on 18 November. It climbed to 3,500 ft at full power, combining power from the combustion engine and electric engine. Seguin then throttled back to a cruise setting, reducing load on both power sources. He spent around 20 minutes testing various power settings while monitoring temperatures and other readings before making a descent and landing back at Camarillo.

“The Eco Caravan propulsion system performed as expected,” said Seguin. “It was smooth and quiet. All temperatures and power output readings were normal.”

The aircraft’s batteries can be recharged both in flight or at charging stations on the ground. Because charging infrastructure will be limited for some years, the ability to operate independent of ground charging is critical for preserving the full utility of the Eco Caravan, according to Ampaire. Noertker also remarked that this particular model is a first step to larger hybrid-electric propulsion systems and ultimately zero-emission systems as energy storage technology advances.

“Launching hybrid-electric aviation is no simple task, but we have made it easier by upgrading an already certified aircraft,” continued Noertker. The Eco Caravan will be certified under a supplemental type certificate, an STC. The Grand Caravan is already FAA certified, so Ampaire plans to certify it to fly with a new propulsion system.

“We will come to market more quickly and allow airlines around the world to begin to gain operational experience with this new type of propulsion. And we will work with them on follow-on models to meet their network requirements,” Noertker concluded.

Exeter and Cornwall champion arrival of Ampaire’s hybrid electric aircraft

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A pioneer in hybrid electric aircraft technology, Ampaire has this week launched demonstration flights between Exeter Airport and Cornwall Airport, to showcase the benefits of sustainable aviation, by driving down costs and emissions on short regional routes.

“We are incredibly excited and proud to be supporting this initiative and to see Exeter Airport play a central role in demonstrating and developing this important technology,” said Stephen Wiltshire, Operations Director, Exeter Airport.
Flying between the two regional hubs, which are located 85 miles apart on a combination of battery and piston power, Ampaire’s flights are part of a series of government-backed trials aimed at moving the UK towards green aviation.

Demonstration flights will be operated by its Electric EEL technology aircraft. The modified US-built six-seat Cessna 337 Skymaster, features a battery-powered electric motor at the front and conventional combustion engine at the rear, enabling a reduction in emissions and operating costs by as much as 30%.

Ampaire is currently developing hybrid electric power train upgrades for 9 to 19-seat regional aircraft, including the Cessna Grand Caravan and Twin Otter. Last year the company received £2.4 million from the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) £30 million Future Flight Challenge towards the consortium’s £5 million 2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations) programme. The programme involves the operation of hybrid electric aircraft on regional routes in South West UK, together with a study of the ecosystem required to enable the future of electric aircraft within existing airport and airline operations.

“Low-emission aircraft are vitally needed on short haul regional routes to meet the UK’s net-zero objective for aviation,” said Dr. Susan Ying, Ampaire’s Senior VP for Global Operations. “We are developing commercial aircraft now that will begin this revolution in sustainable aviation with service entry planned for 2024.”

The EEL will be based at Exeter Airport from where it will fly on two CAA-approved routes, taking it over the dramatic expanse of Dartmoor, or on a more southerly flight path along the stunning Devon and Cornwall coastline, before touching down at Cornwall Airport Newquay.

“The EEL flies very much like a conventional aircraft, with some new instrumentation for power management,” said demonstration pilot, Elliot Sequin. “We have flown it nonstop from Los Angeles to San Francisco and now the length of the UK without any difficulty. It is the forerunner of a new generation of efficient aircraft that will be easy to fly for pilots and cost effective for airlines.”

Pete Downes, Managing Director at Cornwall Newquay Airport commented: “We’re passionate about being part of the solution in terms of the sustainable future of aviation and are incredibly proud to be partnering with Ampaire in this exciting project. At a time when domestic regional travel is stronger than ever, it’s vital we work together to find the most sustainable way to deliver this in the future.”

HIAL embarks on sustainable aviation project at Kirkwall Airport

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Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is leading a £3.7 million project to develop a sustainable aviation programme that will operate for an 18-month period and which could transform short flight travel between remote communities.

Launched and part funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for its Future Flight Challenge, the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project will see the creation of the UK’s first operationally-based, low-carbon aviation test centre at HIAL’s Kirkwall Airport in the Orkney Islands. The airport is well suited as a test environment location due to the variety of short routes it offers acting as a hub connecting Orkney’s island communities through its inter-island flight service.

“Project SATE will place the Highlands and Islands at the vanguard of the adoption of next-generation aircraft and spearhead the aviation industry’s response to climate change,” said HIAL Managing Director, Inglis Lyon. “The project will identify the necessary supply chain and people skills to support the development and testing of the new technologies, with the aim of developing a Highlands and Islands sustainable aviation sector, stimulating inward investment and local supply chain opportunities.”

Lyon also underlined that this project will, “measure local community appetite for the new aircraft technology, especially on lifeline regional routes, and the potential impact on the regional economy from the adoption of these new technologies.”

Led by HIAL, the SATE project brings together a consortium of aviation stakeholders and technology partners, including Ampaire, ZeroAvia, Loganair, Windracers and Flarebright. Local Orkney and Caithness businesses, public sector bodies and academia are also involved in addressing the challenge to improve UK regional air connectivity and helping to decarbonise the Highlands and Islands region. The project will also stimulate job creation and use local renewable energy, supporting Orkney’s net zero ambitions.

In a bid to find the next generation of air services, the project will include testing low-carbon aircraft using electric, hydrogen, or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), as well as drone applications for supplying on-demand medical supplies to health centres and the operational infrastructure necessary to support sustainable aviation.

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said: “This is a very exciting project and it’s fantastic to see HIAL take the lead to create the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test environment. He added that Kirkwall’s test centre “has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront of the transition to low carbon aviation and is an important step towards delivering our commitment to decarbonise scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040.”

Consortium members will also look at how to implement zero-carbon airport infrastructure using green energy sources, as well as digital networking and the development of resilient communications. The socio-economic impact of new technologies and services in the region, and the skills and training needed to support them, will be assessed.