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Electric airline to be piloted in Channel Islands

Electric airline to be piloted in Channel Islands

Tuesday 07 January 2020

Electric airline to be piloted in Channel Islands


A “world-leading” project pioneering all-electric air travel across the world has eyed up the Channel Islands as the perfect testbed for the new technology, it has emerged.

The UK government-funded Project Fresson, which aims to get all the regulations in place for electric aircraft ahead of testing battery-operated planes, has set its sights on Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney as the optimum sites for the project’s “vanguard."

A member of the project, Channel Islands-based aviation consultant and former pilot Mark Harrisson, has been briefing States Members across the islands about the possible benefits of such a project taking off here. 

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Pictured: The project's ambition is to get electric aircraft taking off across the world (Project Fresson/Mark Harrisson).

Speaking to Express about the local and international significance of testing and launching a fleet of electrical aircraft, Mr Harrisson says that it would not only provide “a very simple, quick, low-cost, step-on/step-off service” between the Channel Islands, but would also place Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney at the “world-leading edge of aviation."

He remarked: “What is happening to aviation here is massive. It is the single biggest project in all of aviation history – no question about that.”

Having lived in Alderney for nine years operating helicopters from Brecqhou, Mr Harrisson says that his former home has been worst affected by the quality of air links between the islands.

“Part of this project for me is because I want to help Alderney. It would undoubtedly have a massive positive effect there.”

It’s proposed that, once Fresson has secured, “...design, manufacture and operational regulations for all electric public transport aircrafts” with the European and International regulator, it will be producing a test aircraft – a modified BN-2 Islander.

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Pictured: The test aircraft for the project will be a modified BN-2 Islander (Project Fresson/Mark Harrisson).

Choosing this type of aircraft, which has a long history of operating routes in between the Channel Islands, Mr Harrisson says “is a happy coincidence”.

“It is incredibly fortuitous that they chose the Islander, because the Islander was very, very well accepted and respected in the Channel Islands. And for the inter-island route only – so the race track around the Channel Islands – the islander is extremely well suited and it can be operated efficiently and cheaply and quickly,” he explained.

The plan is to transform old aircrafts into electrical ones, driving down cost and increasing the opportunity for highly skilled engineering jobs locally. 

After collecting data from the operation of the modified Islanders, Project Fresson’s ambition is to work on launching a commercially-sized 80 to 100-seater plane that has been modified to run wholly on electricity.

Mr Harrison says that there are a number of reasons Project Fresson has settled on the Channel Islands to ‘pilot’ the new technology. 

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Pictured: The sky's not the limit for Mr Harrisson's electrical aviation ambitions.

“The Channel Islands have got short flights that match the electric aircraft performance; they’ve got existing infrastructure and maintenance capability for aviation; there’s local high regard for the Islander aircraft and that’s gained by previous use; it’s a mature finance industry able to support an expanding aviation programme and there’s a strong desire for a very simple, quick, low-cost, step on-step off service," he said.

According to Mr Harrisson, the project's partners - Rolls Royce, Cranfield University, Warwick University, Denis Feranti Group, Britten-Norman and Delta Motor Sports – will be coming to Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney later on this year to brief States Members themselves about the initiative.

Elaborating on the possible benefits for the Channel Islands, Mr Harrisson said Project Fresson would invite “elevated media focus”, as well as providing the archipelago with “a very high profile green flagship, local hi-tech green jobs at the world-leading edge of aviation".

Focusing on the job opportunities this could present, he added: “Because of the fact that electric aviation would be a leading edge technology… the people that would be trained in that electric aviation would be world-leaders, but they would be here. 

“In the way of these things, people will go travel the world and they will be taking that knowledge and experience with them and we can also, by way of consultancies, send that experience and knowledge abroad – we can charge for that, which we will be doing. But it will be for the good of the total population of the Channel Islands.”

He also spoke about the possibilities of having a Channel Island-based hub for the modification of the aircrafts into electric planes. 

In terms of launching the electric airline in the Channel Islands, Mr Harrisson envisages that it be a publicly-owned, not-for-profit company that is either funded by the governments of each of the islands or by shareholders through other co-operatives run locally.

“My wish is that it goes down to be owned by very, very broadly, the 200,000 people living in the Channel Islands. Now, exactly how that’s done, there are a number of ways that that could be done – I’m looking for the best route. 

“But I see no reason why that shouldn’t happen in that format. It will produce the cheapest possible format that will allow our travel between the islands to be the absolutely lowest price at the best service and that’s the bit I’m aiming at.”

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