Meet East Anglia's electrical aviation pioneers
- Credit: NEBO AIR/WILDERLEY
When people hear the words "aviation pioneers" they might think of Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh or the Wright Brothers.
The Waveney Valley does not immediately spring to mind.
But, based on a 40 acre farm just outside Bungay, is the headquarters of NEBO Air — the world's first 'airline' with zero CO2 emissions.
NEBO Air plans to operate flights from east London, to the Suffolk Norfolk border and on to Lincolnshire aboard the world's first fully certified electric aircraft — the two-seater Pipistrel Velis Electro.
Currently NEBO Air only flies out of Damyns Hall aerodrome on the outskirts of London. But chief executive Sergey Grachev says the infrastructure for electric flights to be leaving from near Beccles should be in place by the end of summer.
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"Because it is just a two seater aircraft, we must not create the illusion this is a passenger carrier — we can only carry one passenger," he said.
"The model is not passenger transportation, it's what we call statement flying."
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NEBO Air has not been established to ferry people to and from their holiday destination, but to give them something to do when they get there.
It is based on Wilderley, a farm resort in Shipmeadow. Wilderley offers a range of accommodation and activities — including the opportunity to walk alpacas — with a focus on sustainability.
Celeste Goschen, Wilderley's founder and NEBO Air's creative director, said: "It's a very beautiful, quite quirky, but unique retreat."
The are plans to rewild the farm and turn the resort entirely electric by 2025 — with the attraction of a electric flight with NEBO Air being a key part of that vision.
"Green tourism is becoming a key factor in East Anglia," Ms Goschen said. "Normally when you fly into an airfield, it's draughty, it's got a portacabin falling to bits and you're lucky if you get a cup of tea. But we have created this beautiful hub where people can come
Currently, electric flight is limited by the weight of the batteries and how long they last.
The Slovenian-made Velis has two liquid-cooled batteries — one behind the seats, the other behind the propeller — allowing it to fly for about an hour at a time.
The current generation of batteries will last for about two years before they have to be replaced, but are much simpler to maintain than a combustion engine.
But Mr Grachev says the timeline for developing new batteries is relatively short.
"I have been told that Christmas this year, we will have a battery, which can be charged 1,500 times — that's an immediate doubling," he said.
"And next Christmas there will be a battery with more endurance."
On the ground, meanwhile, work needs to be done to put in place the infrastructure to enable NEBO Air to expand.
The company is currently working with Norfolk County Council to install a three-phase electricity supply on the farm to charge the planes.
And they are on the lookout for a suitable airfield midway between the Waveney and east London should something go wrong mid-flight.
However, Mr Grachev said the Velis is "one of the safest aircraft in the world".
"There's no corrosion factor, and there is no metal fatigue because it's all carbon fibre," he said.
"You just need to be monitoring the systems so you know that you've got enough reserves to land.
"But that's not unusual for aviation. When you fly light aircraft you always consider landing midway just in case. It's a normal drill."
And electric aviation has other upsides.
A flight from London to Suffolk will cost just £2 in fuel and will have no emissions.
Both Mr Grachev and Ms Goschen are pilots.
"It's a beautiful feeling — being part of part of something that we know is just going to advance. I think that's why we do it," Ms Goschen said.
Electric flights with NEBO Air are expected to be available by late summer and will cost £150 for an hour.
More information and booking forms can be found at neboair.co.uk.