Stop by the Pitt Meadows airport near Vancouver soon and you might catch a glimpse of what Pipistrel Aircraft hopes is the future of flight. The Slovenia aircraft builder’s Canadian distributor, Pipistrel Aircraft Canada Inc., recently delivered the first completely electric two-seat Alpha Electro to a customer near Vancouver.
While the aircraft arrived in a crate the effort to assemble the aircraft is not time consuming. Pipistrel is in the final phase of having the Alpha Electro approved in the Canadian advanced ultra-light category, a grouping that doesn’t exist in the U.S.
The Alpha Electro is powered by a 60 KW electric motor developed by Siemens AG, an engine equivalent to an 80-hp. gas motor. With a 34-foot wingspan and a 21-foot length, the Electro shares essentially the same external dimensions as a Cessna 150. The Alpha tips the scale at just 1,212 pounds at its maximum weight. At sea level, the aircraft cruises at 85 knots and can deliver an amazing 1,220 fpm climb at 65 knots.
The Alpha can handle an hour of touch and goes in the traffic pattern while remaining nearly silent, according to Jonas Boll, Pipistrel’s Canadian distributor, and this while creating zero-emissions. An hour flight allows the Alpha to also land with a half-hour battery reserve. A recharge on the ground takes just 45 minutes.
Although Electros have been delivered in the U.S., they’re not quite ready for prime time flying since FAA paperwork allowing the Alpha Electro to operate as an LSA in commercial operations has not yet been inked.
In the U.S., the original FAA definition of light sport airplane included the word “reciprocating” engine. With that adjective added to engine and without a clarification, the only option for Pipistrel is to petition the agency to remove the word “reciprocating,” from the definition.
One U.S. Pipistrel distributor, Michael Coates, said the company plans an aggressive lobbying campaign in early 2018 in an attempt to convince Congress and the FAA to axe the qualifying word and allow the Alpha Electro to operate like other LSAs. Coates admits the current legislative climate probably won’t make that easy. He said only pilots calling Congress and asking for the change is likely to bring success. The NBAA’s toll-free hotline to Congress might help: 833-GA-Voice.
Until then, a few Alpha Electros might take flight around U.S. flight schools if owner/operators are granted an exception on a case-by-case basis.