A UK business aviation company is spreading the message that aviation can be environmentally friendly, by offering pleasure flights in an electrically-powered Pipistrel Velis Electro.

In the meantime, the aircraft’s manufacturer is working to expand the applications – and infrastructure – for the battery-powered two-seater. 

Charter specialist and fixed-base operator (FBO) Saxon Air is taking bookings for what it calls its “Electrifying Experience Day” at its Norwich base after launching the initiative in late November. The package also includes a chance for participants to “fly” Saxon’s Velis simulator.

Pipistrel_Velis Electro_image (2)

“The whole idea is that we publicise this to the wider public. The industry gets a bad press, and we wanted to share what is good and raise awareness of sustainable aviation,” says Alex Durand, Saxon’s chief executive. He says several of the firm’s pilots are able to fly the Velis Electro.

However, the flights offer a further benefit for Saxon, which has a handling operation at Norwich airport as well as operating nine managed fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft on charter – the project will give it insights into the infrastructure needed to support a future battery-powered fleet.

“We wanted to work out what we will need as an FBO when it comes to electric aviation,” says Durand. “By operating our own aircraft we will discover what the issues and operational realities are and perhaps help to accelerate the roll-out.”

Saxon has its first Velis Electro on a year-long lease and if the flight experience venture is successful, Durand says Saxon will look to take on a second.

The Slovenian-built, two-seat Velis Electro remains the world’s only certificated electric aircraft, after winning European Union Aviation Safety Agency approval in June 2020.

Pipistrel, which was acquired by Textron in April 2022, has since delivered close to 100 examples, according to director of sales and marketing Steve Mckenna.

Flight training schools are its biggest market, but Pipistrel has been exploring other sectors. In October, the US Air Force said it would be leasing two Velis Electros under its Agility Prime effort, which aims to explore potential military applications for battery-powered aviation.

Meanwhile, military training services provider Affinity has been helping the UK Royal Air Force evaluate the aircraft.

However, the extensive US pilot training sector remains the biggest prize. The Velis Electro is classed in the USA in the experimental category, which means it can be flown recreationally, but its use as a working tool, including as a training aircraft, is limited.

“The [US Federal Aviation Administration] market is hugely important. We are working closely with them and hopeful about a development there in the near future,” says Mckenna.

He is referring to proposed changes to the FAA’s regulations for light-sport aircraft (LSA) under its Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification – or MOSAIC – initiative. If implemented, it would expand the LSA weight limits and, importantly, remove the requirement that an LSA has to have a conventional piston engine. This would make the Velis Electro and other Pipistrel LSAs more attractive to flying schools.

While Pipistrel is working on upgraded batteries for the Velis Electro, Mckenna admits that the network of charging stations also needs to expand, in Europe as well as the USA, to significantly grow the potential of electric aircraft.

The Velis Electro has a range of under 1h, and roughly the same charging time, which makes it applicable for training sorties within a small radius of an airfield, but limits its use as a touring aircraft.

Pipistrel is also keen to expand its numbers of distributors – it added six in 2023 taking the total to 25. “As we grow the business, we are expanding our network globally,” says Mckenna.

Pipistrel’s other types include the conventionally powered Velis Club and Explorer. Meanwhile, the company is targeting 2025 for first deliveries of its first four-seat aircraft, the Panthera piston-single.

Further down the line is the Nuuva, a vertical take-off and landing unmanned cargo aircraft with a payload of 300kg (660lb), which uses electrical power for vertical lift and conventional means for forward propulsion. Pipistrel is aiming for first flight next year.