UK flight schools hire electric plane instructors as fuel prices bite | Technology

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Pilot training schools in the UK are actively seeking instructors who can teach on electric planes, as soaring fuel prices give a boost to the country’s emerging zero-emissions market.

The global electric aviation industry is still in its infancy, with Slovenian manufacturing Pipistrel Velis Electroa two-seat trainer aircraft powered by lithium-ion batteries, certified only in the UK last year.

But Deepak Mahajan, who runs a training center and is director of Pipistrel’s UK and Irish distributor Fly About Aviation, said his school and three others were recruiting instructors to meet demand for more sustainable and cheaper training.

Mahajan says seven Velis Electros are currently flying in the UK, with an eighth arriving soon. His school at Damyns Hall Aerodrome in Essex was the first in the country to offer the full private pilot’s license on electric planes. The RAF also have them as coaches, he said.

Pipistrel says its 57.6kW liquid-cooled electric motor has significant advantages over the combustion equivalent, including lower operating costs and much quieter operation, a major concern for flight schools based near residential areas.

The aircraft battery takes about 90 minutes to charge and lasts about an hour, making it useful for most lessons but not ideal for cross-country flights.

Mahajan hopes to change that by getting airfields to buy electric chargers. Ten airports have already installed them, including at least one powered by solar panels, further reducing the impact on the climate. “We are slowly building this network of chargers across the country,” he said.

Yet the biggest draw for flight schools might be financial. The Velis Electro costs about the same as Pipistrel’s similar petrol aircraft at around £170,000, but soaring fuel prices mean the hourly running cost is much lower.

“My electric plane costs £3 per hour,” Mahajan said. “Sister [fuel-powered] the plane costs £30 an hour. »

Initially, the price for the student will be several times that of around £200 an hour as schools will have to pay the cost of purchasing the aircraft.

Many aerodromes use fleets of aircraft that are decades old and have had several owners in order to reduce costs. In most cases, electric planes must be purchased new from the factory, which can take time before flight schools can significantly reduce their prices.

“Most schools have old cans, but a new plane is like a new car – you have to shell out a lot of money up front,” Mahajan said. “But the maintenance is almost nil.”

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