A UK government backed aviation project has Alderney in its sights for launching a trailblazing service that would see passengers travel in battery-powered Islanders.
Former Alderney resident, Rolls Royce aircraft engine engineer and Barclay brothers’ helicopter pilot Mark Harrisson was in Alderney last week for an energetic series of Q&As in a campaign to harness public and political engagement in the project.
‘Project Fresson and the electrification of aviation is a world wide project and the Bailiwick can ride this wave. There’s been such rapid change across the world and such a rapid stand down of the old technology. Electric aviation is going to be massive and this is Guernsey and Alderney’s opportunity to be in there right at the start, with the benefits that will bring, and create a green legacy in the Channel Islands.’
Mr Harrisson is championing Project Fresson on behalf of Harrisson Aviation. If the States of Guernsey engages with what he fervently believes will be game changer for worldwide aviation and the fortunes of the Islands, he will become responsible for its local operation.
He claims it won’t cost the States of Guernsey or Alderney a penny , reduce costs of air links and see the Bailiwick at the vanguard of green aviation.
So what is Project Fresson?
Project Fresson, based at Cranfield Aerospace, is a 30 month project to develop electric aviation in the UK and become a world leader in the field. It has received a grant from the British government to design, manufacture and integrate a hybrid-electric propulsion system into a 9-seat Britten-Norman (B-N) Islander aircraft, which is typically used on short flights.
The endeavour is being run by a battalion of top flight British businesses and institutions including Rolls-Royce, supplying the power management system; the Denis Ferranti Group, supplying the electric motors; Delta Motorsport, providing battery packs; University of Warwick, who will perform battery testing and characterisation, and Britten-Norman, providing the baseline aircraft and aircraft data/design support. CAeS parent Cranfield University will be researching technology.
Project Fresson leaders and partners were unable to be at the presentation as planned because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. But they appeared by video link at a follow up event at the Braye Beach hotel at the weekend.
Mr Harrisson explained how Alderney and Guernsey came in.
‘They were searching for the right location to launch in. The Bailiwick has the finance industry, very short range flying requirements and it’s got a high world profile. Each of those things make it the right choice for Fresson.’
Mr Harrisson’s ties to the Islands – he spent nine years resident on Alderney operating the Brecqou helicopter – and instinct into how an operation might be run to fulfil the Islands’ requirements, make his connection to the project deeper than simply professional.
He told how he had followed the development of green aviation for many years. He has also been keenly aware of the weakening of Alderney’s air links, controversy over aircraft choice and dwindling number of destinations.
With the current sharp focus on climate change – commercial aviation accounts for around two per cent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions – and upheaval in the air travel industry, there’s a sense that the time is ripe to press the ‘reset’ button. A service providing frequent short hops within the archipelago, stronger, cheaper links, combined with the economic and reputational garlands that being the home of green aviation would bestow, make both parties’ involvement the perfect marriage.
Before an audience of around 70 people in the Island Hall Mr Harrisson outlined how Project Fresson would practically Channel Islands.
Four unmodified piston engine Islanders will serve a triangular Alderney-Guernsey-Jersey route and offer a low cost, frequent bus style service. Two wet-leased NG Dorniers and a back up ‘classic’ Dornier would operate UK routes between Alderney, Southampton,and Exeter, Alderney and Caen and Alderney-London Blackbushe-Exeter-Alderney.
Quick wins for Alderney would be a service based on Island meaning overnight medivac provision.
Once the technology was perfected at Cranfield, the modified aircraft would be rigorously tested being inserted into inter island duties. Stage two of Project Fresson, said Mr Harrison, aims to see the technology extended to the Dorniers and then 30 and 70 seater aircraft.
Designs of the battery powered Islander are well on their way. A hybrid power system would likely be installed allowing traditional fuel or a hydrogen cell to provide back up. BN Islanders’ reliability, straightforward design and suitability to short routes helped make them the aircraft of choice for the project.
Currently the weight of batteries required still limits the range, endurance and payload of electric aircraft. But an enormous quantity of research is being targeted at improving battery size and storage capacity world wide.
Mr Harrisson explained:
‘The initial operation here is that we bring in piston engine Islanders very soon and start running nice simple every day routes with those.
‘Over the next three months the final spec of the elecric aircraft will be frozen and we will start manufacturing all the components for the aircraft. Then we will be modifying the first one and flying and testing that over the next 36 months. Then it will be brought down here on the routes and we will be testing all the corners of the flight envelope very thoroughly.
‘We will start flying people in the electric islanders when they are all certified and everyone is happy with them. They are completely normal aircraft you won’t notice a difference other than they are completely quiet.
‘What that will allow us to do is prove everything on the aircraft not that it’s airworthy, we know it will be airworthy but to make sure it matches in with the economic requirements of flying an electric islander.
‘In parallel to that we will be launching Fresson 2 which will be developing the 19 seat aircraft and then that will come down here probably in about six to seven years time. It’s a stepped approach rather than anything dramatic and it’s a very well detailed project.
Mr Harrisson said the entire project would be equity funded. They were not asking the States of Guernsey or Alderney for a penny.
Round 1 of investment funding aims to raise £15,000,000, Round 2, £20,000,000 and Round 3 will seek to raise £70,000,000.
One of the key areas for investment will be in a system where batteries can be swapped for more advanced models at no extra charge.
‘That first round of equity will be coming up for promotion in about six weeks time. Part of it will come to support the project down here and part of that will go straight into development of electric aircraft. So it’s a two pronged equity release.’
Even though money is not being sought from the States of Guernsey, Mr Harrison was unequivacal that bringing the scheme to the Channel Islands rests heavily on government buy in.
He said the plan was to partner up with another operator and use their AOC – the operator would also have the PSO for the Alderney routes – and said had three such operators in mind. But he was clear that the prime objective was to work with Aurigny; creating publicly owned, not for profit venture that dovetailed with economic and green agenda policy.
‘Because of the scale of this it needs be run at an inter government level.
‘There are general elections in Guernsey in six weeks time and a big part of me doing this is to discuss the public and politicians how we can be part of the first step of this massive world wide project.
‘I’d like politicians in Guernsey and Alderney to engage with us to allow the Bailiwick of guernsey to catch this wave and we all go surfing forward with it.’
So what did the audience make of the plans?
Mainly what audience wanted to quiz Mr Harrisson on were perceived problems over projected routing and flight frequency to Alderney.
Edward Hill wanted to know why Southampton featured on the route plans when it’s future was under threat. Another objected that the projected four times per week schedule for Southampton was too skimpy.
Who would pay for the losses Aurigny claims their operations accrue – some £10m across the network and £3m attributed to the Alderney routes. We would need to see the accounts, said Mr Harrisson. He believes the right type of service will not lose anything like that sum of money. Schedules could be tweaked.
This month he will be in Guernsey presenting Project Fresson to the voting public and to politicians there.
For Mr Harrisson’s slide show click on the following link: