Skip to Content
Climate change

A fully electric aircraft has just made its first commercial flight

December 11, 2019
The world's first electric commercial aircraft owned and operated by Harbour Air is seen landing following its maiden flight in Richmond, B.C.
The world's first electric commercial aircraft owned and operated by Harbour Air is seen landing following its maiden flight in Richmond, B.C.
The world's first electric commercial aircraft owned and operated by Harbour Air is seen landing following its maiden flight in Richmond, B.C.Associated Press

The first flight of a fully electric commercial aircraft took place yesterday around Vancouver, Canada. It lasted just 15 minutes.

About the plane: The plane was a 62-year-old, six-passenger seaplane that had been retrofitted with an electric motor. It was designed by Australian engineering firm MagniX and tested in partnership with Harbour Air, the world’s largest seaplane airline. Harbour Air says it plans to electrify its entire fleet by 2022, depending on whether it can secure the necessary safety and regulatory approvals. The aircraft can only fly about 100 miles (160 kilometers) for now, but that’s sufficient for the sort of short-hop journeys the airline needs.

Why it’s exciting: The aviation sector is a significant—and rapidly growing— contributor to global carbon emissions, and there are numerous research projects around the world under way to try to reduce its impact.  A move to electric modes of transport is the ultimate goal for many of them.

Some big caveats: Although the technology for small electric aircraft (those carrying around five passengers) has advanced, transporting 50 people or more represents a much bigger challenge, requiring far more power. That relies on a significant breakthrough in battery technology, which has so far remained elusive. For now, a switch to hybrid planes looks more feasible.  

Deep Dive

Climate change

How Bitcoin mining devastated this New York town

Between rising electricity rates and soaring climate costs, cryptomining is taking its toll on communities.

The Green Future Index 2022

A ranking of 76 economies on their progress and commitment toward building a low-carbon future.

carbon neutral fuel concept
carbon neutral fuel concept

This $1.5 billion startup promised to deliver clean fuels as cheap as gas. Experts are deeply skeptical.

Prometheus Fuels has struck deals to deliver millions of gallons of carbon-neutral fuel. But it’s years behind schedule, and some doubt it can ever achieve its claims.

single stack of Polyjoule batteries on site
single stack of Polyjoule batteries on site

These plastic batteries could help store renewable energy on the grid

Startup PolyJoule wants to expand grid storage beyond lithium batteries.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.