Australia-based independent regional and domestic airline Rex Airlines and Australia-headquartered Dovetail Electric Aviation have formed a strategic partnership to pioneer the conversion of turbine powered aircraft to electric, zero emission propulsion. The partnership, which will operate under the Dovetail brand, will develop and certify the retrofitting of electric engines onto legacy aircraft, initially for regional and general aviation aircraft.
Dovetail was formed in 2021 by Sydney Aviation Holdings, owners of Sydney Seaplanes and Dante Aeronautical, a start-up pioneering disruptive electric aviation concepts with a presence both in Spain and Australia.
Sydney Aviation Holdings CEO Aaron Shaw says: “We are incredibly excited to collaborate with Rex Airlines and Dante Aeronautical on an initiative that promises to put Australia firmly on the map as a global leader in the conversion, certification and maintenance of electric aircraft. For the first commercial electric flight to occur on such an historically important aviation site as Rose Bay just adds to our enthusiasm for this ground breaking project.”
Rex will provide an aircraft to be used as a test bed for the project along with a raft of support facilities including engineering expertise, technical assistance, MRO support as well as storage facilities and workforce accommodation.
Rex Airlines deputy chairman John Sharp says: “Rex is both proud and excited to be at the forefront of developments in sustainable regional aviation and helping our national efforts in achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2050.
“Regional airlines operating short sectors as well as seaplanes and training aircraft will be the early adopters of electric battery propulsion. Australia, with its very high utilisation of regional aviation and large number of aircraft capable of conversion, is a perfect incubator for the electric aviation industry. Significantly lower operating costs of electric aircraft will also help to stimulate regional aviation services between communities not currently served by scheduled flights.
“We are delighted to partner with Sydney Seaplanes and Dante Aeronautical in Dovetail Electric Aviation and to lend our aviation and engineering expertise to advance its progress, while also accelerating Rex’s journey to a zero emissions future.
“Dovetail promises to deliver the holy grail in aviation: true sustainability; lower maintenance and operating costs; and also less waste as a function of the reuse of existing aircraft.”
Once the necessary IP and certification approvals are established, Dovetail will open conversion centres in Australia, Europe and Singapore, with the US and Middle East also under consideration.
Shaw adds: “Our vision is to lead regional aviation across the world into an exciting, new sustainable era before leveraging the IP, approvals and facilities we establish into larger aircraft and longer flights as improvements in electric propulsion technology enable.”
“The addressable market is huge," says Dante Aeronautical founder David Doral. "We estimate that in the global small commuter fleet alone there are more than 11,000 nine to 19 seat aircraft that are currently capable of being retro-fitted, which represents a US$15 billion market.”
The conversion of turbine aircraft to electric propulsion promises to bring zero emissions aviation into the mainstream much faster and more cost effectively than via newly commissioned electrical aircraft. Dovetail expects to achieve certification for converted aircraft within four years, compared with more than eight to 10 years for clean sheet electric aircraft, and at a fraction of the certification costs.
Aircraft will be converted using magniX engines, for which Dovetail is the exclusive distributor in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Mediterranean Europe. Converted aircraft will be 30-40 per cent quieter than their donor planes and will enjoy reduced operating costs of around 40 per cent.
Dovetail will certify the entire propulsion system of an aircraft by integrating the electric motor, battery packs and hydrogen fuel cells into one ‘drive-train’ on an existing airframe. In doing so, it will generate unique IP in conversion engineering, testing technology and power plant machine learning to optimise powerplant performance.
The company has established customer relationships or memoranda of understanding with a range of airlines including Sydney Seaplanes, Alt Air, SeaAir Pacific and FLYM Group in Australia; Volotea, Air Nostrum, Isla Air and Monte; and Hong Kong Seaplanes.