ZeroAvia, the leading innovator in decarbonizing commercial aviation, recently completed the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft. The flight took place late in September at the company’s R&D facility in Cranfield, England, with the Piper M-class six-seat plane completing taxi, takeoff, a full pattern circuit, and landing.
This achievement is the first step in the transformational possibilities of moving from fossil fuels to zero-emission hydrogen as the primary energy source for commercial aviation. Eventually, and without any new fundamental science required, hydrogen-powered aircraft will match the flight distances and payload of the current fossil fuel aircraft.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means to our team, but also for everybody interested in zero-emission flight. While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon. All of the team at ZeroAvia and at our partner companies can be proud of their work getting us to this point, and I want to also thank our investors and the UK government for their support,” said ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov.
This significant milestone on the road to commercial zero-emission flight is part of the HyFlyer project, a sequential R&D program supported by the UK government. It follows the country’s first-ever commercial-scale battery-electric flight, conducted in the same aircraft last June. In turn, ZeroAvia will now focus on the next and final stage of its six-seat development program—a 250-mile (400-km) zero-emission flight out of an airfield in Orkney. This range is roughly equivalent to busy significant routes such as Los Angeles to San Francisco or London to Edinburgh.
“Aviation is a hotbed of innovation and ZeroAvia’s fantastic technology takes us all one step closer to a sustainable future for air travel. Through our ground-breaking Jet Zero partnership, we’re working hard with industry to drive innovation in zero carbon flight, and we look forward to seeing the sector go from strength to strength,” said Aviation Minister Robert Courts.
Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi, for his part, shared, “Developing aircraft that create less pollution will help the United Kingdom make significant headway in achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Backed by government funding, this flight is another exciting milestone in ZeroAvia’s project. It shows that technologies to clean up air travel are now at our fingertips—with enormous potential to build back better and drive clean economic growth in the United Kingdom.”
ZeroAvia’s innovation program in the United Kingdom is part-funded through the government’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) program. Through the HyFlyer project, ZeroAvia works with key partners, the European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) and Intelligent Energy, to decarbonize medium-range small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional engines in propeller aircraft. Intelligent Energy will optimize its high-power fuel cell technology for aviation applications, while Emec produces green hydrogen from renewable energy. Likewise, it will supply the hydrogen required for flight tests and develop a mobile refueling platform compatible with the plane.
Recently, ZeroAvia was also invited by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to join the United Kingdom’s JetZero Council and help lead the country towards the ambitious goal of achieving the first-ever zero-emission long-haul passenger flight.
In addition to all the aircraft work, ZeroAvia and Emec have developed the Hydrogen Airport Refuelling Ecosystem (Hare) at Cranfield Airport—a microcosm of how the hydrogen airport ecosystem looks like in terms of green hydrogen production, storage, refueling, and fuel cell powered-flight. It also marks another world’s first—a fully operational hydrogen production and refueling airport facility for primary commercial aircraft propulsion.
“This is an important milestone for HyFlyer and UK aerospace, and we send our congratulations to the team. It is through supporting projects such as HyFlyer, along with new and innovative companies such as ZeroAvia, that the ATI aims to deliver our vision for future sustainable aviation and secure a lead for UK aerospace in the highly competitive global market,” said Gary Elliott, ATI CEO.
The successful flight represents good news for the aviation industry’s role in supporting the net-zero transition and raises hopes for innovation that can reduce commercial challenges in the medium term, particularly crucial for the industry as it considers the post-pandemic recovery. ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric powertrain is projected to have lower operating costs than its jet-fueled competition due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. The company plans to control hydrogen fuel production and supply for its powertrains and other commercial customers, substantially reducing the fuel availability and pricing risks for the entire market.
ZeroAvia is a zero-emission aviation leader focused on hydrogen-electric aviation solutions to address various markets, initially targeting the 500-mile (800-km) range in 10-20 seat aircraft used for commercial passenger transport, package delivery, agriculture, and more. Based in London and California, ZeroAvia has already secured experimental certificates for its two-prototype aircraft, passed significant flight test milestones, and is on track for commercial operations in 2023.
Meanwhile, the HyFlyer project aims to decarbonize medium-range small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional piston engines in propeller aircraft. HyFlyer will demonstrate a phased approach from battery power to hydrogen power, integrating the new technology aboard a Piper M-class aircraft, which will perform initial test flights out of Cranfield and culminate in a 250-300 nautical mile (400-480 km) demonstration flight out of an airfield in Orkney. The project is led by ZeroAvia with project partners Emec and Intelligent Energy. (Story and photos by ZeroAvia)