Surf Air Mobility Signs Aircraft Electrification Deals with 2 Kenyan Operators

The company’s goal is to connect airports with sustainable, short-haul direct service using electric and hybrid-electric Cessna Grand Caravans.

Surf Textron hybrid electric aircraft

Surf Air Mobility plans to modify Cessna Grand Caravans with its electric and hybrid-electric powertrains. [Courtesy: Surf Air Mobility]

Apparently, modifying Cessnas is all the rage these days.

Surf Air Mobility (SAM), a regional air mobility company that retrofits Cessna Grand Caravans with electric or hybrid-electric powertrains, on Thursday signed agreements to provide its technology to a pair of operators in Kenya. The two firms, Safarilink and Yellow Wings, each agreed to install SAM’s proprietary powertrain following its FAA certification, targeted for 2026. Both aim to be all-electric in 2027.

Safarilink connects domestic scheduled flights to locations in Kenya and Tanzania using a fleet of 12 aircraft, eight of them Cessna 208Bs. It makes more than 30 flights per day to 18 destinations. Yellow Wings’ fleet, meanwhile, comprises two 208Bs and two 208B EXs. The air operator serves more than 500 airfields in East Africa.

“Implementing Surf Air Mobility’s electric powertrain technology will help us reduce the noise and minimize the climate impact of our flights as we help people from all over the world to experience our region’s incredible ecosystem,” said Alex Avedi, CEO of Safarilink.

SAM has an exclusive agreement with Cessna parent company Textron Aviation to electrify the Grand Caravan, making it Textron Aviation’s sole supplier of electric and hybrid-electric powertrains for that model. SAM also agreed to purchase as many as 150 Cessna EX single-engine turboprops to convert to a nine-seat variant. The first 20 deliveries are expected in the first half of this year.

The company’s vision is to use its modified Caravans to connect airports with sustainable, short-haul direct service, particularly in North America. It claims the aircraft will be “immediately operable” at more than 5,000 public use airports in the U.S., with no charging system installation required for hybrid-electric models.

More broadly, however, SAM is focused on business in regions that are already key markets for the Caravan, and which have shown themselves to be early adopters of emerging mobility technology. Kenya—home to Caravan operators such as Safarilink and Yellow Wings and committed to a 100 percent clean energy transition by 2030—appears to fit the bill.

“The Caravan is an amazing aircraft on which to develop our electrified powertrain, and we believe Safarilink and Yellow Wings’ operations are perfectly suited to demonstrate the benefits of our technology,” said Stan Little, CEO of SAM. “We believe Africa is at the cutting edge of regional air mobility.”

Added Christian Strebel, CEO of Yellow Wings: “We strongly believe in alternative propulsion for air travel. We have always been the frontrunners in adopting new systems and innovations. Kenya, with 91 percent carbon-free power generation, is the ideal country to spearhead this movement.”

SAM is in the process of developing supplemental type certifications for the hybrid and all-electric versions of its Caravan. The firm is targeting a 50 percent reduction in operating costs, with a 100 percent drop in carbon emissions for fully electric models.

“Our goal is to deploy our proprietary electrification technology on a global scale, in addition to our own network,” said Fred Reid, global head of business development for Surf Air Mobility. “Upgrading Safarilink’s and Yellow Wings' Caravan fleet with our electrified powertrains unlocks new possibilities. As air travel economics change with electrification, we believe Safarilink and Yellow Wings can improve current services, launch new viable routes, and reduce environmental impact.”

The agreements with the two Kenyan firms are just the latest in SAM’s global push to bring electric aircraft to market at scale.

In October 2022, the company signed a $450 million deal with Jetstream Aviation Capital, the largest global aircraft lessor focused exclusively on commercial turboprop regional aircraft and engines. Over six years, SAM will be able to purchase new and used Caravans and Pilatus PC-12s, as well as enter sale and purchase agreements or separate binding lease agreements for each aircraft. The Miami-based lessor, meanwhile, plans to purchase up to 250 powertrains.

In November, SAM agreed to electrify Caravans within the existing fleet of Azul, Brazil’s flag carrier and largest airline. Azul operates 27 208Bs serving 80 destinations across Brazil.

But perhaps the company’s biggest update came in August, when it closed the acquisition of Southern Airways. SAM claims the merger will create the largest commuter airline in the U.S., based on the companies’ 2022 scheduled flight departure figures. Combined, the firms that year served 450,000 passengers across 48 cities, with more than 75,000 departures.

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Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

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