Developing an Energy Management Model to Support Electric-Powered Aviation

Electric Powered Aviation Team Picture

Oakley Bach-Raabe, Somith Das, Jayden Sahl, Scott Switzer, Michael Worobetz

The Challenge

Our client, Harbour Air Group, operates one of the largest all-seaplane airlines in the world, flying more than half-a-million people annually around the Pacific Northwest. Committed to sustainability, the company retrofitted a seaplane to an all-electric motor in 2019 and flew the world’s first electric commercial plane in Richmond. Harbour Air wants to expand their entire fleet to be all electric planes.

We were asked to develop an energy management system for a fleet of three dozen or so electric planes – a complicated challenge given the need to balance flight schedules, charging times, range capabilities and other factors.

Our design process and challenges

Harbour Air wanted a way to schedule the operation of their electric planes to account for the logistics of charge times and range capabilities, and that took into account the impact of temperature on battery use and charging time. We began by developing a hardware testing system to characterize how batteries operate at different temperatures, charge rates and loads. Predicting state of charge is a new area of research with many different methodologies being used. We needed to do a fair bit of research to identify which would work best for our specific application.This significant endeavour gave us data to build a model to represent battery pack and flight power curves. We tested our model on a variety of battery cells and from there were able to scale our model up from one battery cell to the full battery system in use on a plane. The third stage of our project was creating a flight planning tool. Flight operators can enter certain inputs to find out required charging times for the next scheduled flight or the predicted final state of charge after a flight. We’ve designed a user-friendly interface to make it easy for the operations crew to plan and organize flights based on energy requirements.

What excited us most

"We were also very aware of the responsibility that comes with this work: you definitely have no room for error if you are predicting the amount of charge needed for a flight."

It was an honour to work on this project with Harbour Air and be part of their vision to be a carbon zero company. We’re interested in sustainability and aviation and this project allowed us to help advance the next generation of plane technology. The days of combustion are over and it’s time to look into other options like electric.

What we learned

"Capstone projects are a very rewarding process as they enable you to apply the theoretical knowledge and practical skills you’ve learned in your second and third year courses and bring it all together on an ambitious project."

The project may have seemed daunting at the start, but like any big project, if you break it into small manageable chunks, it is more than achievable.

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Our Project's Future

We will give the battery testing hardware to Harbour Air so they can continue the work we have been doing and improve upon it. There are other areas that can enhance the accuracy of the model, including integrating environmental conditions or incorporating the effect of different flight loads on energy use during a typical flight. Harbour Air can also use our system to test different battery types to identify the right batteries for their operational needs, given the constraints of space and the weight their planes can carry.

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