SFU MOT MBA students help Harbour Air’s ePlane project take flight

Aug 31, 2023

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people standing together in front of eplane

(Left to Right) SFU MOT MBA professionals Greg Hatton, P.Eng, Pankaj Bagga, and Juan Artigas.

A team from SFU Beedie’s Management of Technology (MOT) MBA program is playing a pivotal role in developing the world’s first fully electric commercial aircraft by recently completing an industry consulting project with Harbour Air Seaplanes.

Starting in early May 2023, the students delved into the business case for ePlanes to analyze the potential market, regulatory environment, and strategic directives necessary for the ePlane project to realize the HAAS (Harbour Air Aerospace Services) electrification vision.

Harbour Air took to the skies with their ePlane for the first time in December 2019. Since then, they have clocked more than 70 test flights. Their current focus is on securing the necessary Transport Canada regulatory approval for their ePlane, a revamped DeHavilland of Canada DHC-2 Mk1 Beaver equipped with a MagniX magni650 electric powerplant.

For their industry project, the MOT MBA students evaluated the electric aviation sector, gauging market dynamics, competition, technological innovations, and pinpointing potential challenges and opportunities.

With an average industry experience exceeding 15 years prior to the program, the students brought proficiency from diverse domains, including aerospace, venture capital, software development, robotics, and telecommunications.

Capitalizing on their rich backgrounds in technology and business, the students devised strategic proposals, aiding Harbour Air in steering through the burgeoning ePlane market. The collaboration enriched their grasp of the aviation industry’s electrification nuances and the inherent challenges of electric aircraft evolution.

“SFU Beedie’s MOT MBA program prides itself on preparing students to tackle complex business and technology challenges,” said SFU Beedie associate professor Carlos da Costa, the academic advisor and instructor who oversaw the project. “Working with Harbour Air on their ePlane project allowed our students to apply their knowledge and skills to a cutting-edge industry initiative, contributing to the future of sustainable air transportation.”

Throughout the industry project, the MOT MBA students conducted extensive research, performed industry benchmarking, analyzed market trends and demand drivers, and engaged in strategic discussions with key stakeholders. The culmination of their efforts was a comprehensive industry analysis report, which provided Harbour Air with recommended actions to capitalize on the emerging opportunities in electric aviation.

Harbour Air eplane mid-flight

Harbour Air ePlane. Photo Credit: Harbour Air Aerospace Services

Harbour Air engineering and quality manager Erika Holtz, P.Eng, DAR, and mechanical E.I.T. Blago Hristovski shared their perspective on the collaboration, saying, “We were excited to collaborate with SFU’s MOT MBA students on this industry analysis project. Their expertise and fresh perspectives provided us with valuable insights into the market landscape, regulatory considerations, and strategic planning necessary for the successful development and implementation of ePlanes.”

The collaboration exemplified the power of academia and industry working together to drive innovation and inform strategic decision-making, notes da Costa. “By combining their technical and business acumen, the students were poised to deliver insights that helped shape the future of Harbour Air’s ePlane project and contributed to the advancement of sustainable air transportation.”

The initiative concluded in late July 2023, culminating with a presentation for Harbour Air.

Greg Hatton, P.Eng, spokesperson for the SFU Beedie MOT MBA team, said, “Harbour Air’s groundbreaking efforts in developing the DHC-2 ePlane mark a pivotal stride between the end of the carbon age and the beginning of the electric age of aviation. With their integration of design, manufacturing, certification, maintenance, and operations, and with visionary leadership, the company is in a strong position for regulatory approval. Further, over 60 per cent of their routes are serviceable, with this innovative aircraft ensuring a ready market. The next steps are for FAA and Transport Canada regulatory approvals and the roll-out of the charging network by BC Hydro. This will take time but fits well with the government initiatives for net-zero carbon by 2035 set by Prime Minister Trudeau and 2050 by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).

“It was a great experience,” adds Hatton. “This collaboration underscores the transformative potential of academic-industry partnerships, helping to pave the way for a sustainable future in aviation. The team thanks Harbour Air for their excellent collaboration. It was a pleasure to work with them.”

This story was first published on SFU News.