Electric flying boats with standard retractable landing gear will unlock short range connections between the world's many water bodies says George Alafinov, CEO of Switzerland-based sustainable aircraft developer Jekta. The future of flight is electric, sustainable and amphibious he continues: "Electric motors are already demonstrating power and reliability suitable for aircraft applications. Associated batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and potentially other technologies are still maturing, but electric propulsion is here and, arguably, on the brink of enabling new flying possibilities. Sustainability is the primary driver behind the electric revolution.
"Flying boats played a pivotal role in the dawn of aviation, providing a versatile means of transportation that connected remote locations and traversed vast bodies of water. With the advent of electric propulsion, the flying boat is poised for a resurgence that could reshape the industry, and electric propulsion offers inherent advantages.
"The reduced weight and enhanced efficiency of electric motors make them ideal for powering these waterborne aircraft. Electric flying boats could combine electric aviation's benefits with water-based operations' versatility. They unlock intriguing possibilities for short range connections between water bodies where other forms of transport are complex or environmental restrictions negate the possibility of regular flight.
"However, the transition to electric aviation has its challenges. While batteries have made significant progress in recent years, they still have limited energy density compared to traditional aviation fuels. This limits long range flights and large aircraft operations, which require substantial power reserves. Over the next few years, the technology will have improved sufficiently to enable aircraft with up to 19 seats to operate commercially.
"There has been no all-new entrant into the 19 seat regional aircraft market since the early 1980s. Operators are understandably eager for change, looking to recapitalise their fleets with modern, efficient aircraft, even if those are only derivatives of older designs. We saw evidence of this at the recent Paris International Air Show, where De Havilland of Canada launched its DHC-6 Twin Otter Classic-300G, adding modern avionics, a new cabin and airframe improvements to a design first introduced in 1969. Orders swiftly followed.
"The Twin Otter is significant as one of few aircraft in this category capable of operating on floats. It shares the possibility of exchanging its fixed, wheeled landing gear for large floats with other familiar seaplanes, including the Cessna Caravan and de Havilland Canada Beaver, the subject of an electric motor conversion for Canada’s Harbour Air.
"The weight and drag of the alighting gear compromise all floatplanes; the optimal solution for operating an aircraft to and from water rests with the flying boat. Ultimate versatility combines with optimised seaplane efficiency when a flying boat is equipped with retractable wheeled landing gear for operations from land.
"In the pre-world-war era, when airports were scarce, airline planners saw they could serve the world’s major cities from rivers, lakes and coastal waters. However, the massive programme of airfield building that accompanied World War II and the post-war availability of thousands of cheap, war surplus transport landplanes effectively ended the first age of commercial seaplanes as airline infrastructure grew around hard runways.
"And yet many regions, from the Canadian bush to the Amazon basin, remain isolated by difficult or non-existent roads. At the same time, parts of Africa and India could easily be opened simply by operating between waterbodies. In the Amazon, for example, populations rely on tortuous water delivery routes or visits by floatplane or helicopter for supplies, medical support and other critical services. The logistics of providing avgas or jet fuel at these locations are challenging, while environmental sensitivities can mean the noise of a turboprop or helicopter operation is unwelcome.
"Now consider those areas served by a quiet, electric amphibious aircraft supported by a solar-powered charging station rather than regularly depleted fuel drums. If that aircraft is an amphibian, environmentally sensitive, sustainable connections between international airports and the most remote locations are possible."
Now Alafinov has skin in the game; Jekta is designing an electric flying boat with standard retractable landing gear. The PHA-ZE 100 (Passenger Hydro Aircraft - Zero Emission 100) will be certified as a 19 seat regional aircraft for airline operations, with a spacious cabin that will come in 10 seat executive and six seat VIP versions. "Imagine the genuine possibility of comfortable, fast, on demand city connections, VIP experiential sightseeing or flights between island resorts in a quiet, spacious flying boat, responsibly and sensitively. We also plan to create cargo and medevac options to maximise the potential of flying wherever there is water or land.
"An amphibious flying era is dawning. Let us embrace this promising chapter in aviation history and embrace the revival of the flying boat."