Main WikiMiles News ZeroAvia makes history for flying the world’s first largest aircraft powered with a hydrogen-electric engine

ZeroAvia makes history for flying the world’s first largest aircraft powered with a hydrogen-electric engine

28 Apr 2023

ZeroAvia, a zero-emission aviation startup based in the U.K., just provided a big boost to sustainable air travel with its small, hydrogen-electric plane.

On January 19, 2023, the company successfully completed a test flight of its 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft, the largest aircraft in the world to be powered by a hydrogen-electric engine. The flight took place from the company’s R&D facility at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, U.K. and lasted for 10 minutes.

According to reports, at 13:35 pm GMT that day, the aircraft completed taxi, take-off, a full pattern circuit, and landing. The landmark flight forms part of the HyFlyer II project, a major R&D program backed by the U.K. Government's ATI Programme, which targets development of a 600kW powertrain to support 9-19 seat aircraft worldwide with zero-emission flight. 

In this testbed configuration, hydrogen tanks and fuel cell power generation systems were housed inside the cabin. A full-size prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain was retrofitted on the left wing of the aircraft, and it operated in tandem with a single Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on the right.

The latest achievement follows ZeroAvia's previous world-first milestones, such as the six-seat prototype flights of a Piper M-Class airframe in 2019 and the world's first commercial-scale six-seater hydrogen-electric powered flight in September 2020. The company hopes to scale its clean engine technology to deliver commercial routes by 2025.
ZeroAvia has raised over USD 140 million in funding from investors, including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates’s energy venture fund. The company has also received over 1,500 pre-orders from customers for its hydrogen fuel-cell systems, according to founder and CEO Val Miftakhov.

During the test flight, all systems performed as expected. This is the largest ZeroAvia engine tested to date, placing the company on a direct path to a certifiable configuration to be finalized and submitted for certification in 2023. This program also serves as the company’s key to unlocking speedy technology development for larger aircraft. 

ZeroAvia's 2-5 MW powertrain program, which is already underway, will scale the clean engine technology for up to 90-seat aircraft, with further expansion into narrowbody aircraft demonstrators over the next decade. This flight test campaign will be conducted under a full Part 21 flight permit with the U.K. CAA, which is a much more stringent set of requirements compared to the E-Conditions framework ZeroAvia used for its 6-seat prototype test flights in the past years. This signifies the maturity of the company's processes, design approaches, and readiness to proceed towards full commercial certification of its power plants.

ZeroAvia will now work towards its certifiable configuration to deliver commercial routes using the technology by 2025. The Dornier 228 will further conduct a series of test flights from Kemble and later demonstration flights from other airports. 

Despite delays and issues with testing, Miftakhov said that ZeroAvia is still on track to meet its announced plans for commercial launch. He declined to share what type of plane would be used and which commercial partner was involved, but he said the aircraft will have between 10 and 20 seats. The company also plans to raise additional funds to support commercialization. 

Celebrating this remarkable progress, Miftakhov said: 

“This is a major moment, not just for ZeroAvia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it shows that true zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away. The first flight of our 19-seat aircraft shows just how scalable our technology is and highlights the rapid progress of zero-emission propulsion. This is only the beginning - we are building the future of sustainable, zero climate impact aviation. Our approach is the best solution to accelerate clean aviation at scale. Congratulations to everyone on our team and all of our partners and stakeholders for the collective effort that brought us to this monumental day in history.” 

A Long Runway, But Worth It 

Aviation accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050, the demands of flying are difficult to achieve without fossil fuels. 

Hydrogen fuel cells represent one possible route that companies hope can help reduce emissions from the industry, but to make significant cuts, the technology would need to be scaled up to power relatively large aircraft.

However, ZeroAvia’s historic first flight shows significant commercial momentum, including an engine order from American Airlines, a partnership agreement with OEM Textron Aviation, and infrastructure partnerships with airports including Rotterdam, Edmonton International, and AGS Airports. 

With promising pre-orders and partnerships, ZeroAvia is well positioned to lead the industry’s transformation to a clean and environment-friendly future for the aviation industry.

As Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Business, said: 

“Today’s flight is a hugely exciting vision of the future—guilt-free flying and a big step forward for zero-emission air travel. It also demonstrates how government funding for projects like these is translating into net zero growth. The U.K. is a world leader in green aviation technology, and the global shift to cleaner forms of flight represents a huge opportunity to secure growth and jobs for our country. That's why we are backing businesses who share our ambitions, reaping the benefits of green technology and growing the thousands of new, skilled jobs that come with it.” 

Why This is Important 

ZeroAvia’s monumental test flight this year is important because a hydrogen-powered airplane is not just a revolutionary new product; it is also a symbol of hope and progress, a beacon of light in a world that desperately needs it. 

This marks a new chapter in the history of aviation and the fight against climate change. ZeroAvia is one of the companies leading this charge, and the world is noticing it. 

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