It’s an utterly iconic Puget Sound tableau. You are sailing, kayaking, or swimming Lake Union or Lake Washington when a seaplane noisily buzzes and whines in the distance, its engine either laboring for takeoff, or winding down for landing. Now, imagine that same scenario, but with the sound of that seaplane’s engine just louder than the whirr of, say, a high-powered ceiling fan.
According to MagniX, an international aerospace company with U.S. headquarters in Redmond, that vision is close to becoming reality.
“We already have electric cars, electric buses, and electric trains. Why not airplanes?” pondered MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski. “We are answering that question.”
Founded in Australia a decade ago, MagniX started as a general research and development company focused on electric motors, permanent magnets, and superconduction. Two years ago, the company honed its interest on commercial aerospace propulsion. It opened an engineering facility in Bellevue last year and relocated to a more permanent location in Redmond this year.
MagniX is using its proprietary electric propulsion systems technology to produce two all-electric, emissions-free motors — the 132-pound, 375-horsepower magni250, and the 265-pound, 750-horsepower magni500 — that aim to enable clean and affordable commercial air travel.
Similar to the rise of electric vehicles — originally designed to handle short, in-city trips between charging stations, and not necessarily replace traditional gas-fueled vehicles — MagniX’s interest is piqued by smaller aircraft traveling relatively short distances.
“It really depends on your frame of reference,” Ganzarski explained. “Will this replace a 737? Absolutely not. That will take 40 years. Will it replace an aircraft that today is doing 50, 70, or 100 miles, but in a gas-guzzling, emissions-creating way? Absolutely.”
He pointed to industry data that show 75 percent of flights worldwide last year were 1,000 miles or fewer, and of the 38 million airplane flights worldwide, 5 percent — or 2 million flights — were of distances of 100 miles or fewer.
“That market is just hungry for something that will allow them to make more money, be clean, and be able to grow,” added Ganzarski, who joined MagniX last year, following more than a dozen years working at The Boeing Company.
At MagniX’s Redmond headquarters — located around the corner from the local offices of SpaceX, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s aerospace company — approximately 30 employees write software code, make design modifications, and map out projects on a whiteboard. The company’s contemporary, two-story offices evoke the casual sophistication of a tech startup. Conference rooms are named after Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers. Employees work upstairs in a loft-like aerie with no corner offices or cubicles.
Another 50 MagniX employees work in Australia, and the company has one owner/investor — Singapore-based Clermont Group, an investment firm led by New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler.
For now, MagniX faces two challenges.
Siemens, the German industrial manufacturing company with more than $80 billion in revenue last year, operates a division that is developing electric-propulsion technology. For Ganzarski, whose demeanor is generally optimistic and glass-half-full, competing with a Goliath like Siemens only legitimizes MagniX’s goal to bring to market an all-electric motor for commercial airplanes.
“You know they aren’t wasting time or money,” he added. “For me, it validates everything that we are doing, and it’s being taken seriously.”
Also, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval is needed. MagniX has planned test flights of three different types of airplanes for later this year, replacing the single-engine setup on a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver commercial aircraft operated by Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air with one of MagniX’s all-electric engines. So far, MagniX has outfitted the front-end of a Cessna “Iron Bird” airplane with a three-blade propeller powered by the magni250 motor. If MagniX’s motors are awarded FAA approval, according to Ganzarski, first commercial flights are expected in 2022.
One company interested in MagniX’s innovative motors is Harbour Air.
In March, Harbour Air announced that, upon FAA approval, it would install magni500 motors on its commercial fleet of more than 40 seaplanes, which operate 30,000 flights and transport more than 500,000 passengers annually.
“We are pushing the boundaries of aviation by becoming the first aircraft to be powered by electric propulsion,” said Harbour Air founder and CEO Greg McDougall. “We are excited to bring commercial electric aviation to the Pacific Northwest, turning our seaplanes into ePlanes.”