(CNN) — If you're catching a Mokulele Airlines commuter flight around Hawaii's islands later this year, you might spot one of the world's first hybrid commercial aircraft soaring through the skies. That's right, Los Angeles-based aviation company Ampaire has announced it'll start testing aircraft partly powered by electricity on some commercial routes later in 2019.
In what will likely be seen as a significant step toward improving the environmental credentials of air travel, Ampaire has retrofitted existing aircraft with electric powertrains, hoping to cut down C02 emissions and address high operating costs.
The Ampaire Electric EEL, a reconfigured twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster, is Ampaire's first commercial product. It's been modified to fly with one conventional combustion engine and one electric motor.
While the initial flights, operated in partnership with Hawaii-based Mokulele, are being scheduled as a proof of concept, it's hoped the aircraft will get official FAA certification by 2021 to allow it to enter full commercial service.
Ampaire CEO Kevin Noerteker says the development will help "jump start" the market and pave the way to an "all-electric" future.
He acknowledged that building an electric-only aircraft from scratch is highly expensive, suggesting that hybrids are a cheaper way to start reducing emissions quicker.
"The Cessna 337 modification is a first step," he said in a recent statement. "The next may be a hybrid or fully electric retrofit of a nine- to 19-passenger commuter/cargo aircraft. As batteries and powertrains mature, we will shift our focus to clean-sheet designs such as our nine-passenger, zero-emissions Tailwind concept."
The Cessna 337 Skymaster is a six-seater aircraft that's been in operation since the early 1960s, so hardly the most modern of aircraft. It tends to serve small, commuter-based airlines.
Members of the public won't be able to book tickets on the test flights, but it might not be long before we're catching these flights, Ampaire says there's been a lot of interest from carriers.
Other companies are also interested in electric aircraft. To name just a few, at this year's Paris Air Show, Israeli aviation company Eviation Aircraft said US carrier Cape Air is going to be the first customer for its electric airplane, dubbed Alice, ambitiously scheduled for 2021 certification.