Imagine not pulling up to the fuel pumps either before or after a training flight. The dream of a flight school operating an airplane that doesn’t operate on fossil fuels is now a real possibility for operators in Canada with Transport Canada’s certification of Pipistrel’s ALPHA Electro earlier this month. The ALPHA Electro was also certified in Australia about 18 months ago. In Canada, the ALPHA Electro was certified as an Advanced Ultra-light, a category that doesn’t exist in the U.S. ALPHA Electros are flying in the U.S., but under the experimental LSA banner, a category that makes them ineligible to be used for hire.
The ALPHA is powered by a 60-kw electric motor equivalent to an 80-hp. gasoline-powered engine. Roughly the size of a Cessna 150, the ALPHA Electro weighs considerably less, just over 1,200 pounds. At cruise, the ALPHA Electro tops out at 85 mph.
No word on when or even if the ALPHA Electro will ever make its way to the U.S. training marketplace. Pipistrel distributor Michael Coates said the roadblock hangs on a single word contained in the U.S. definition of an LSA. The FAA calls an LSA, “an aircraft, other than a helicopter or powered-lift that, since its original certification, has continued to meet the following … (6) a single, reciprocating engine, if powered.”
There’s no provision to allow an electrically powered aircraft to be certified as a standard LSA. Coates said former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta was supportive of the need to remove the word reciprocating from the definition, an action that would open up the American flight training market, but the change never happened before he left office.