New Zealand’s only electric plane takes to the skies

Meridian Energy has teamed up with a Christchurch start-up, ElectricAir, who has brought the first 100 percent fully electric plane to New Zealand skies, with two-person flights operating from Christchurch Airport and Rangiora Airfield.

The Pipistrel Alpha Electro is the first serially produced electric plane in the world and now ElectricAir is using it to kickstart a transport revolution here in New Zealand. 

ElectricAir is passionate about electrification and doing what it can to help look after the planet and reduce emissions – which is why it was a no brainer it chose Meridian, who shares those same values, to be its power provider.

New Zealand’s only electric plane takes to the skies
Photo credit: Brian Greenwood

ElectricAir Founder Gary Freedman says he really wanted to show it’s possible to fly in an environmentally sustainable way by choosing an aircraft that doesn’t omit any emissions when it flies.

"We also wanted to take advantage of Meridian’s Certified Renewable Energy product, which means we can report our scope 2 electricity emissions as zero* and show our support for 100 percent renewable energy generation. This is just the beginning and it’s so exciting to be leading the way," he says.

Gary told Newshub his concept for the company was born in 2016 after a trip to Slovenia, where the Pipistrel is manufactured. After taking an electric plane for a test flight, Gary says he never looked back.

"At that time I think more people had been to space than had flown an electric plane, so it was an amazing experience. I looked around and just thought 'why aren't more people doing this?"

The plane can be plugged in
The plane can be plugged in

New Zealand has among the highest rate of short haul flights per capita in the world, which Gary says makes us the ideal launching pad for this revolutionary tech. The plane can take one passenger plus pilot, and fly for just over an hour before it needs recharging.

The limited battery life isn't as much of a limitation considering New Zealand's longest internal flight is just two hours (Auckland to Invercargill) and our shortest (Auckland to Whangarei) is just 20 minutes.

Gary says flight schools are currently best positioned to take advantage of electric aircraft because most training flights are less than an hour in duration and there are cost savings through simpler maintenance and lower fuel costs. 

"I've been blown away by the response from the aviation sector, from recreational pilots to commercial aviation and instructor pilots. Everyone I've spoken to thinks this technology is fantastic, it's the future and we should embrace it," says Gary.

"Now people have a genuine choice, if they want to learn to fly they can opt for a traditional, polluting internal combustion engine plane, or a new, clean, quiet low emission version. We've helped to make that choice a reality and it's hopefully just the start of an aviation revolution."

Flying an electric plane is essentially the same as flying a more traditional aircraft, but easier in some areas. Gary compares it to switching from driving a manual car to an automatic.

"There are just fewer things to worry about, fewer things that can go wrong due to their being fewer moving parts. No spark plugs, no exhaust, no combustion engine and the problems that come with them," he says.

New Zealand’s only electric plane takes to the skies
Photo credit: Brian Greenwood

Another huge advantage is that electric planes are around 70 percent quieter than traditional combustion engine versions. That allows airports to be far better neighbours.  

Air travel produces an estimated 2.5 percent of the world's C02 emissions, with this number set to triple by 2050 if demand for air travel continues to grow. Norway has pledged to electrify all short haul flights by 2040, a goal which Gary calls hugely ambitious and he would love to see similar targets for domestic flights in New Zealand.

"I think as a country we need to set some targets and provide financial incentives to push this technology forward. That's what this project is about, showing people this technology is here and we need to wake up to it."

The market for electric transport is booming, with 2.1 million electric cars sold globally last year representing a 40 percent increase from 2018. Gary says air travel is the next frontier.

"We've started an electric journey on the roads, but it's time to take to the skies."

*Using the market-based reporting methodology as per the GHG Protocol’s Scope 2 Standards.

All the electricity that the plane uses comes from the grid.  Meridian’s Certified Renewable Energy product verifies that the electricity ElectricAir uses on an annual basis is matched with 100% renewable energy generated by Meridian, for more information click here.

This article was created for Meridian