Guernsey-based company Harrisson Aviation has forged close links with Project Fresson, based at Cranfield airport, from where it is working towards equipping Britten-Norman Islanders with electric engines.
This connection could see Guernsey becoming the first place in the country to offer commercial flights using electric planes, which the team at Project Fresson is hoping will be operating by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
Before that, Harrisson’s strategic director, Mark Harrisson, said the plan was to start flights with piston-engined Islanders which can be converted to the new technology as soon as it becomes available.
Cranfield Aerospace Solutions is leading the Project Fresson consortium.
In a special briefing for the Guernsey Press, CEO Paul Hutton said that until recently the issue for electric aircraft had been the length of time they can fly using traditional lithium-ion batteries, such as those used by motor vehicles.
‘If you use batteries you get a very green solution, but you can only get the plane to fly for about 10 minutes,’ he said.
The next option would be range extenders for the battery -powered planes, but he said this added to the cost and the weight, and also led to more carbon being produced.
Britten-Norman business development director Lara Harrison said it believed a knock-on effect of using hydrogen cells would be that the price of flights would drop.
‘What this would allow is inter-island hops at a fraction of the ticket price right now,’ she said.
‘What you’d be able to do is have more frequent, high-volume travel between the islands and I think it would really open up travel in the community.’
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As well as having the planes converted to hydrogen cells, airports would need to install the infrastructure capable of handling the technology, but this would reap benefits in terms of reduced charging times for aircraft. ‘The hydrogen solution is an absolute game-changer,’ she said.
Mr Harrisson has incorporated a Bailiwick company, Green Air, and investors were coming on board.
‘There are ongoing discussions to make sure the whole of this programme, from Green Air’s side, is up and running correctly. That is running very, very rapidly now and I’m delighted with the way it’s moving forward.’
His concept has always been to operate eight aircraft, with his initial goal to operate three piston-engined Islanders. ‘Then as soon as probably the second or third machine to be converted at Cranfield comes out, that is the one that I’m hoping will come down here as aircraft number four.’
At this point, he said, the aim would be to start converting the rest of the fleet as well as increasing the number to eight.