Martha’s Vineyard Airport is looking at potentially installing support infrastructure for electric aircraft and ground transportation.
At Thursday’s meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC), airport director Geoff Freeman said all aspects of sustainable electric technology are being considered so that the airport can remain at the forefront of environmentally conscious innovation.
Freeman said airport officials are in discussion with Sam Hobbs of Beta Aircraft and Aviation Technologies, an aircraft manufacturer and infrastructure company with an expansive network of charging systems spanning the Eastern half of the country.
Hobbs said the company is in the middle of developing its new Alia aircraft. Comparable to a Cessna Caravan in size and wingspan, the fully electric plane can fly with wings or with lift rotor props, enabling it to take off and land vertically and then transition to long-range flight.
The Alia is being developed and tested in tandem with a network of electric aircraft charging ports, not just to support Beta’s aircraft, but to fuel the electric plane industry at large, according to Hobbs.
“We are doing everything we can not to be proprietary, and are working with a number of groups to provide the right protocols that support the most aircraft,” Hobbs said.
As the infrastructure exists currently, two refrigerator-size converters that change alternating current from the grid into fast-charging direct current are stationed near the payment and charging kiosks.
The kiosks are located at the edge of an aircraft ramp to allow for easier installation and fewer disruptions to airport operations during construction and maintenance.
As part of the aircraft charging infrastructure, a public element to Beta’s plan for the airport would include fast chargers for ground vehicles.
He noted that the chargers that work for electric planes also work for Teslas, Chevy Volts, and other electric vehicles.
For the aircraft charging, people can book their charging time with an easy-to-use phone app, and can either pay through the app, or at one of the rampside kiosks.
In looking to the future of electric vehicles and planes, Hobbs said Beta would also look at installing supporting infrastructure to allow for additional charging stations in the future.
According to Hobbs, the airport wouldn’t have to spend time working with the utility company, and Beta would handle all the organizational aspects of connecting the infrastructure to the grid.
“We need three-phase 1,200-amp service with 480 volts. We set all that up. Beta not only pays for this infrastructure, but we organize the work with the utilities. It’s about trying to make it as low a lift as possible for the airport,” Hobbs said.
Commissioner Kristen Zern wondered if the electric aircraft that Cape Air decides to utilize in its fleet would be compatible with these charging systems.
Hobbs said Beta hopes to cover whatever Cape Air implements, and the company can work with the airport in the future to decide how to accommodate any specific kind of charging technology.
Commissioner Jack Ensor asked about how solar projects on the Island could work in concert with any electric charging going on at the airport. “How would the tech work behind the meter? If there is power produced here, instead of pulling power through the cables, is that something we could utilize?” Ensor asked.
Although the decision to tie in solar energy to the system would be in the hands of the utility company, Hobbs said, he is excited to hear about the possibility of using green energy.
Commissioner Richard Knabel noted that the parking situation at the airport is already stressed, and wondered where the vehicle charging stations would be located near the terminal.
Hobbs said that would need to be a conversation going forward, as Beta determines what systems will work best for the Vineyard.
In other business, American, Delta, and Elite Airlines have all ended service for the season, leaving Cape Air and JetBlue as only the two operators.
JetBlue will operate through Oct. 18, with approximately four or five flights per day, and will drop down to two or three flights as the end of its operational season nears.