Rex Goes Electric with Sydney Seaplanes and Dovetail Electric Aviation


Australia’s regional and mainline carrier, Rex Airlines, announced its involvement in a project to convert turbine-powered aircraft to electrical propulsion. Rex has formed a partnership with Dovetail Electric Aviation (Dovetail), a joint venture between Sydney Aviation Holdings, owner of Sydney Seaplanes, and Dante Aeronautical (Dante), a startup company pioneering the adoption of clean aviation solutions, with a presence in Spain and Australia.

Rex is bringing the aircraft and its expertise

Rex uses Saab 340s on its regional routes which may be candidates for the electric conversion program. Photo: Rex

The partnership with Rex will operate under the Dovetail brand to develop and certify the retrofitting of electric engines onto legacy aircraft, starting with regional and general aviation aircraft. Rex will provide a plane to be used as a testbed and its engineering and technical expertise, maintenance support, storage facilities and workforce accommodation. Deputy chairman John Sharp said that Rex is “both proud and excited to be at the forefront of developments in sustainable regional aviation and helping our national in achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

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While no specific aircraft is mentioned in yesterday’s announcement, data from ch-aviation.com shows that Rex has nine inactive aircraft, four Saab 340B(Plus), four Saab 340B and one Saab 340A aircraft. It has a further 23 340B(Plus) and 26 340B active, plus six Boeing B737-800s it operates on mainline domestic services. The data lists the Saabs as being between 26 to 33 years old, making them potential candidates for the testbed role. Sharp believes that regional airlines operating short sectors, as well as seaplanes and training aircraft, will be the early adopters of electric battery propulsion. He adds:


“Australia, with its very high utilization of regional aviation and large number of aircraft capable of conversion, is a perfect incubator for the electric aviation industry. Significantly lower operating costs of electric aircraft will also help to stimulate regional aviation services between communities not currently served by scheduled flights.”

Sydney Seaplanes managing director Aaron Shaw believes the partnership with Rex and Dante will put Australia firmly on the map as a global leader in the conversion, certification and maintenance of electric aircraft. “Our vision is to lead regional aviation across the world into an exciting, new sustainable era before leveraging the IP, approvals and facilities we establish into larger aircraft and longer flights, as improvements in electric propulsion technology enable.”

Sydney Seaplanes wants to be the leader in emission-free commercial electric flights. Photo: Sydney Seaplanes

Conversion cuts certification time in half

Dovetail will put together the total propulsion system by integrating the electric motor, which will come from MagniX, the battery packs and the hydrogen fuel cells into one drive train. The complete drive train will then be installed onto an existing airframe. Converting an existing turbine aircraft to electric propulsion is far quicker than developing a new airplane. Dovetail expects certification within four years, which it says compares to the eight to ten years needed for a clean sheet electric aircraft at a fraction of the cost.

Dante Aeronautical founder David Doral said the addressable market for electric conversions is huge. “We estimate that in the global small commuter fleet alone, there are more than 11,000 nine to nineteen seat aircraft that are currently capable of being retrofitted, which represents a $15 billion market.” In September 2021, Dante Aeronautical joined with Spanish airlines Volotea and Air Nostrum on a project to develop 100% electric emission-free aircraft, looking to have a certified aircraft within three years.

For regional airlines like Rex and tourism operators like Sydney Seaplanes, electric propulsion fits with their shorter routes and converting older aircraft is a quick way to get to zero emissions. Do you think this is the way to go for sustainable aviation?

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