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NEBOAir: Watering the seeds of sustainable aviation with the Velis Electro

NEBOAir, Pilot Training, Pipistrel Velis Electro, Sustainable Aviation

NEBOAir: Watering the seeds of sustainable aviation with the Velis Electro

NEBOAir: Watering the seeds of sustainable aviation with the Velis Electro

Published at: 26/10/2023

NEBOAir, Pilot Training, Pipistrel Velis Electro, Sustainable Aviation

Kerry Wilmot, co-director of NEBOAir, tells FINN editor Hazel King how the all-electric Pipistrel Velis Electro is transforming pilot training of the future

It has been three years since the first Velis Electro arrived in the UK. It is the first and only type certified electric aircraft in the world and is already saving an ‘incredible amount’ of emissions, according to Kerry Wilmot.

“Sustainable aviation, which ever way we look at it, has got to drive forwards. It is more about changing the mindset of people than it is about forcing it down somebody’s throat – you don’t get anywhere like that. It is about engaging people on a level you hope they would like to engage on rather than saying ‘this is what you must do’. You plant the seed, and then you let the seed grow,” she explained.

Kerry Wilmot, co-director of NEBOAir. Image by Rod Kirkpatrick

The aircraft, of which there are currently seven across the UK, is a twin-seat, single propeller aircraft that is ideal for pilot training. According to Wilmot, pilots can complete approximately 85% of their private pilot’s license training requirements and virtually all their light aircraft pilot’s licence training using the Velis Electro.

“Every pilot who learns to fly in the UK is putting five and a half tons of CO2 into the atmosphere across the license,” she said. “If you learn to fly on a Continental, based on 500 hours you would need to plant 86,000sqm of trees to offset the CO2 emissions – with the Velis Electro, you can do a huge amount of your training completely emission free.”

Wilmot is working with the government to try and get electric aircraft installed into the busiest training schools across the country to conduct a feasibility study on what can be achieved in terms of training and the emissions savings. “We’re still waiting to hear back on that,” she said. “It is a conversation that started at Sustainable Skies World Summit, and we’re going back and forth to discuss the potential for this.”

Electric on display

NEBOAir is working tirelessly to engage the aviation industry on the topic of sustainable flight and has supplied the aircraft for a major trial with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Sunlight to Flight study for the DfT with Catapult Connected Places.

The RAF trial was part of its target to reach net zero by 2040. Wilmot explained, “The trial was organised by the British distributor for Pipistrel, a sister company to NEBOAir. They conducted a three-phase trial called the Pathfinder Project. The aircraft went to Cranwell and it was used to see how it could fit into sustainable pilot training of the future.”

The company has also demonstrated the Velis Electro at several airshows and events, including Farnborough Airshow 2022 and Sustainable Skies World Summit earlier this year. It also completed its first ever Electric Arrows in-air display off the Brighton seafront, in support of a sustainable real estate conference.

Sustainable infrastructure

A challenge of electric flight is the ability to charge your aircraft safely and efficiently, so will NEBOAir be investing in in-ground charging infrastructure? No, is the short answer, at least while the industry continues to evolve. Wilmot continued, “Every Velis Electro aircraft that is delivered to the UK comes with its own mobile charging station and for us the key there is it is mobile. Providing there is three-phase electricity support at the airport, we can charge there. The aircraft can be flown in, and the charger can be delivered by vehicle.

“These aircraft are not designed to be flown cross-country – you can fly for 45 minutes, and it is designed as a circuit aircraft to deliver sustainable flight training. There is no immediate need to have in-built charging infrastructure at airfields as electric aviation is still evolving,” she added.

Battery development is another area that needs to be developed to support wider use of electric aircraft in the UK. “My belief is Pipistrel is game changing at this moment in time,” enthused Wilmot, “but there are some incredible companies in the UK who we talk to, engage with and work with who are bringing battery technology forward.