Houma airport planning for electric aircraft, possible fire danger



(The Center Square) – The Houma Terrebonne Airport is forging ahead with plans to accommodate electric aircraft, while other efforts are underway to build workforce training for the industry.

George Rey, with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, gave a progress report to the Louisiana Advanced Aviation and Drone Advisory Committee on Wednesday on various moving pieces in the works to bring electric aircraft to Louisiana.

“Right now, the airport has given out a contract to BETA to do the battery charging study,” Rey said. “The primary area we want to set up is at the UGC, or the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Gulf of Mexico Center for Excellence campus,” with two alternative locations.

“We hope to see that study completed in the next 30-40 days,” Rey said.

Work at the airport, which already includes a large concrete pad, is aimed at accommodating BETA’s CTOL-300, which is currently undergoing testing on the east coast to certify for vertical takeoffs and landings.

“After they do their testing over there, they’ll be bringing the aircraft to us,” Rey said. “What we’re trying to do is set up where is the best place to put the battery charging for this or any other electrical aircraft that would show up.”

There’s also a UGC contract to design a hangar and remotely piloted aircraft theater, with a temporary structure adjacent to the facility in the meantime.

“Hopefully early next year that design process for the hangar and RPA theater will be accomplished and we’ll be off and looking for the dollars to actually construct it,” Rey said.

The airport will also need to upgrade electrical service, and local officials plan to work with the Louisiana Public Service Commission, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. and Entergy to locate a smart microgrid at the airport.

“When you have a number of these aircraft, once you get past 12 or 14, right now if you use 400 kilowatt batteries you can see real quick you’re into the gigawatts for what you need to charge that many on a ramp, so there’s no way you’re going to bring in that kind of power over the lines,” Rey said.

One goal of the work at the Houma Terrebonne Airport is to develop a template for the various planning, systems considerations, and necessary approvals other airports can use to accommodate electric aircraft.

That includes setting fire prevention standards to allow for “vertiports” with electric aircraft that use batteries eight times as large as those currently used in Tesla electric cars.

Rey noted a Tesla fire in Houston last year took 32,000 gallons of water to suppress, “so this brings up the question do we have enough water if we have a fire on a runway?”

Rey scheduled a meeting with the Louisiana State Fire Marshall’s office for Wednesday to begin a conversation about that issue, as well as considerations for elevated vertiports.

Other progress involves the development of a training program at Fletcher Technical Community College to certify mechanics and technicians with a focus on lift-and-push electrical propulsion systems.

“We are in the very early stages of working with that,” Rey said.

The advisory committee is slated to continue to meet in the coming months to produce a report with recommendations for lawmakers for the next legislative session.



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