The Californian company Surf Air Mobility has signed a purchase agreement with Textron Aviation for 100 Cessna Grand Caravan EXs and secured options for 50 more. Both companies intend to develop and certify a hybrid-electric engine for the aircraft.
In cooperation with the manufacturer Cessna itself, a supplementary type certificate (STC) for the conversion is to be obtained, according to Surf Air. Since this has not yet been obtained, the first hybrid-electric flight will probably take some time. Subsequently, the propulsion system will be made available to other operators.
Although the first aircraft from the order are to be delivered as early as the second quarter of 2022, they will still have the conventional propulsion system with PT6A propeller turbines. Surf Air does not expect electric motors to be installed in the Cessna Grand Caravan until 2024 – the aircraft delivered by then will be retrofitted.
Operating costs and CO2 emissions are to be reduced by around 25 per cent with the hybrid drive, Surf Air said in a statement. However, there are apparently no plans to charge the aircraft on the ground with green electricity. Therefore, Surf Air sees an advantage in dispensing with charging stations. “With no charging stations expected to be required, the aircraft should be immediately operable at more than 5,000 public use airports across the U.S.,” the company wrote.
“Hybrid electric propulsion technology, deployed at scale for environmental and commercial benefits, is an important part of the future of travel,” said Ron Draper, CEO of Textron Aviation. “This relationship with Surf Air Mobility leverages the unique performance capabilities of the Cessna Grand Caravan in both passenger and cargo operations and continues to demonstrate the aircraft’s adaptability for innovative missions and configurations.”
In addition, Surf Air says it expects to still allow nine seats in the cabin after the hybrid conversion – instead of up to 14 in the conventionally powered Grand Caravan.
Surf Air wants to use its network to connect US airports with short-haul direct flights. This is to create a “regional mass transportation platform”. “We know from our experience that people are looking for faster, affordable, and cleaner regional travel and we are building the ecosystem to accelerate the industry’s adoption of hybrid electric flight,” says Sudhin Shahani, co-founder and CEO of Surf Air Mobility. “We believe significantly reducing the emission from this category of aircraft will be the biggest step we can take toward de-carbonization in this decade.”
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