Newly founded aviation tech startup Elibird Aero has ordered two electric eFlyer 2 aircraft from Bye Aerospace, as it prepares to launch Canada’s first all-electric, carbon-neutral flight training unit
Teara Fraser is an avid aviator and entrepreneur.
In the past two decades, she got her pilot’s license, became the first Indigenous woman in Canada to own an airline and is now on a mission to bring cleaner, more sustainable and electric technology to the aviation industry with her latest venture, Elibird Aero.
“Our vision with Elibird is an ecosystem of limitless innovation,” says Fraser in an interview with Electric Autonomy. “We’re calling ourselves an aero tech company. We’re interested in all things innovation in aerospace: aero robotics, aerodromes, aerodynamics, aeronautics, air mobility and aero tech. We really want to look into all of these things.”
Fraser’s first airline, Iskwew Air, offers scheduled flights and charter services to remote Indigenous communities in British Columbia. She says she held back on opportunities that might have helped turn Iskwew Air into a national airline because of the negative effects airplanes have on the environment.
“A part of me longed for that. But I just couldn’t reconcile the impact [airplanes] have on Mother Earth. I started to think about how can I be part of this industry. How can we help move the industry towards lower emission?”
Fraser hopes Elibird Aero will “disrupt and innovate in aviation and aerospace in a way that creates a more equitable, accessible and sustainable ecosystem.”
Canada’s first all-electric flight training unit
Elibird Aero’s first move is to become the first all-electric flight training unit in Canada.
Transport Canada has already granted Elibird Aero a flight training unit operating certification. This allows it to train students and issue private pilot’s licenses from the company’s base at Boundary Bay Airport in Delta, B.C.
The company has ordered two eFlyer 2 aircraft from Colorado-based electric airplane manufacturer, Bye Aerospace. The eFlyer 2 is an all-electric airplane with two seats, used primarily for flight training.
In aviation, airplanes cannot operate until they have received regulatory certification.
The Bye Aerospace eFlyer 2 is currently making progress in getting its operations certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
But Fraser says the timeline is uncertain for when the eFlyers 2 aircraft will go into operation for Elibird Aero.
“It’s hard. The OEMs and myself are very entrepreneurial, but we have to wait for the regulator to do their due process prior to certification. All we can do is advocate for that to happen safely and swiftly.”
While Elibird Aero waits for its electric aircraft the company is building out its infrastructure and simulators for the flight training unit. They are also hiring trainers.
Building a charging network and exploring hydrogen
The differences between an electric and a conventional airplane are much the same as road vehicles. Adopters benefit from lower emissions, lower cost of operation and less noise pollution.
Fraser says she wants to create an all-electric flight training unit because it is ideal for testing new aviation technologies.
“One of the great reasons…is because the range is less of an issue,” she explains. “Oftentimes your training is fairly close to home with all your exercises. Certainly, there are cross-country exercises, but primarily the training is happening close to base.”
Along with purchasing the electric airplanes, Fraser says Elibird Aero will build a charging infrastructure network in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. The goal is to not only serve the flight training unit itself, but also engage with other airports and communities nearby to further develop battery infrastructure and a charging network to support larger electric aircraft in the future.
The company is also keen to explore other forms of aviation propulsion methods, including hydrogen.
“What role does hydrogen play in this aim to walk more softly on Mother Earth?” says Fraser.
“We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we know that hydrogen technology is advancing quickly. We’re interested to delve into that as well.”
Partnering with CAAM
Elibird Aero is partnering with the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility consortium (CAAM) to help connect them with different stakeholders in advanced air mobility. Fraser’s Iskwew Air is a founding member of the federal not-for-profit.
The consortium is working to create an ecosystem that brings together all levels of government, companies, organizations and academia to advance sustainable aviation. Its mission is to advance Canada’s transition to zero-emission aviation before 2050.
“One of the things I really appreciate about CAAM is that everyone is committed to sharing information and working together. If we really want to achieve [zero-emission aviation], then we need to work in collaboration, not competition,” says Fraser.
“All these things are interconnected. What our involvement or what our offerings will be in other areas is still in development.”
JR Hammond is the executive director of CAAM. He says, relative to other countries, Canada is “behind schedule” in adopting zero-emission aviation technologies.
“Our Canadian government is much more interested in how we build an intermodal transportation system so that public transportation, shared mobility and aviation are all linked together,” says Hammond in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“That’s a much more complex system and is taking us a little bit more time.”
Barriers to zero-emission aviation
There are several barriers to overcome in advancing zero-emission aviation. Hammond says that making aviation more socially inclusive, sourcing clean energy to fuel airplanes and advancing certifications and regulations of aircraft are key areas to improve.
“Aviation has the highest safety standard of all modes of transportation. With the introduction of the new technologies, we need not only to stay there but to continue to improve upon that safety. There is no room for error whatsoever, which makes it more complex for introduction of innovation,” says Hammond.
Aviation regulations and certifications are developed and approved in Canada by Transport Canada and Nav Canada.
According to Hammond, there is electric and hydrogen technology in the process of being approved for small aircraft capable of transporting up to 15 passengers for three to five hours of flying time.
“The big excitement though, is where it’s going to be coming in in that 2030 timeframe, which is larger aircraft that carry more people — about 50 plus — on longer distances,” says Hammond.
To reach these goals, Fraser says many connected elements need to move forward together.
“We need public acceptance, we need regulatory approval, we need the battery technology, we need training and maintenance of the new technology. We need all those things for it to be able to work,” says Fraser.
“At Elibird Aero you can start to see that’s why we are looking at all of the different technologies, innovations and infrastructures that are needed to actually move ahead.”