PASSENGERS on Regional Express flights from Orange airport could be boarding an electric-powered aircraft by the end of the decade.
Deputy Chairman of Rex Airlines John Sharp this week announced the company has invested in a partnership to pioneer the conversion of turbine-powered aircraft to electric, nil-emission, almost silent propulsion.
Australian-based Dovetail Electric Aviation will work with Rex on the project which could put the airline at the forefront of international development in the field.
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 in Spain and Australia.
Rex will provide an aircraft to be used as a test subject for the project along with support facilities including engineering expertise, technical assistance, maintenance, repair and overhaul support as well as storage facilities and workforce accommodation.
In a recent ABC radio interview, Mr Sharp said the trials would involve swapping the existing jet-fuel burning engine and replacing it with an electric motor supported by batteries and hydrogen to drive the propeller.
He said the airline was looking at flights of around an hour's duration in a turbo-prop aircraft.
"Sydney to Canberra, Sydney to Wagga, Dubbo, Orange, Armidale, Tamworth, Canberra to Albury ...
"It's about one hour in length of flight and that is typically what a regional air service is."
Mr Sharp said storage for the battery and hydrogen within the aircraft was one of the bigger modifications.
"We know how that can be done, it's not a issue," Mr Sharp said.
"The important thing is from the travelling public's point of view is that none of this will be done without it being approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority who will monitor everything we do and will have to approve everything before we can do it."
Mr Sharp also said most regional airports are equipped with three-phase power on runway aprons, suggesting minimal infrastructure would be required for the modified aircraft.
Technical services director Ian Greenham said Orange City Council would be happy to work with Rex.
"From our perspective, we're happy to look at ways to work with an industry player that makes an industry more sustainable," Mr Greenham said.
Mr Sharp admitted three year's ago, he would have been among the sceptics when it came to electric-powered aviation.
'But In the last three years the technology has advanced so much we feel it's worthwhile investigating.
"It won't be a quick process, will require approvals of CASA. Expect to see it happen in this decade," he said
The project is expected to deliver significantly lower operating costs which should be passed on to passengers. He added services to regional areas not currently covered could also be stimulated.
"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."
Rex is Australia's largest independent regional and domestic airline operating a fleet of 61 Saab 340 and six Boeing 737-800NG aircraft to 58 destinations throughout all states in Australia.
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