It’s been more than 30 years since Sounds Air began offering low cost domestic air travel from its airport in Picton. Now the company is on track to become the first in Australasia to fly a zero emission electric airplane flight with passengers, and it seems everyone is on cloud nine about it. Erin Harrison spoke to Managing Director Andrew Crawford.

Andrew Crawford says that the public response to what they have planned has been phenomenal, so much so that he actually has people shouting at him on the street – in support of it all, of course.

“I have had people across the road yelling out ‘we love what you guys are doing!’ I can assure you that no one has ever said that to me about using fossil fuels.”

So what does Crawford attribute all of that enthusiasm too? The fact that people want to see actual change, because while there is a lot of talk about the climate and how we all need to play our part, he hasn’t seen a lot of action himself. This is how Crawford believes Sounds Air can make a difference, while leading the way and perhaps even making history when it happens.

After researching a range of options around the world, the company has settled on who they will be sourcing their fully electric planes from and the countdown is on. Crawford says that they are aiming to have their zero-emission 19-seater planes in operation in 2026.

But while the idea in its concept form is exciting, could there potentially be some trepidation from the general public about boarding a flight that is powered by batteries? Crawford understands this may be the case, however is quick to put minds at ease.

“These aircraft will be extensively used and tested in Europe and US before they arrive here, so we will be able to monitor those overseas operators first.

“And yes, range anxiety is also a real thing as has already been seen with electric vehicles. People worry that they may not be able to reach their destination with the power they have on board, but technically – it’s not different to a fuel tank. You simply monitor it for when it needs to be topped up.”

Sounds Air
Sounds Air are aiming to have their zero-emission planes in operation in 2026.

And that’s where the next task lies for Crawford and his crew, creating the infrastructure to support the electric planes which will require recharging stations at all the airports they fly in and out of. Thankfully, everyone is on board for this change, including the New Zealand Government who supported Sounds Air by assisting with a feasibility study to ensure the investment would result in successfully getting the planes off the ground (both metaphorically and literally).

When it comes to the financial side of things, Crawford admits it is no cheap exercise buying the three aircraft, as well as everything that goes with it. So why was it important for Sounds Air to begin making their shift towards greater sustainability, before any of the other major Australasian airlines took the front row seats?

“It’s an absolutely defining moment for our business. People want to be a part of what we are doing, and I think they will want to fly with us because of it. It’s almost like a revolution of sorts.

“You can’t listen to a news bulletin without hearing about climate change, and this is our chance to say to our grandkids ‘we did do something, and it made a difference’.”

Not one to do things by halves, the introduction of the new aircraft in four years won’t be the end of the carbon neutral journey for Sounds Air – more like just the beginning, as the next target is to achieve all-electric operations by 2030. This is a strategy that could potentially include retrofitting some of its current aircraft, should such a modification be available, affordable and viable. And with the technology that continues to come out of Europe at an exciting rate of knots, Crawford is hopeful of this.

“The batteries are continually being developed and are becoming quicker to charge, are able to go a longer distance, and have greater capabilities.”

Now all there is to do is sit, wait and get ready to book your ticket for the day that electric planes arrive in New Zealand, making their way to the Sounds Air destination – and perhaps into the history books.

Story created in partnership with Marlborough District Council.

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