The latest milestone from ZeroAvia is a key step forward in moving towards a cleaner, greener aviation industry. Rose Dykins reports
Last month, ZeroAvia – a leading tech company in decarbonising commercial aviation – operated the first passenger flight in a commercial-grade plane powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
Taken by a six-seater Piper M-Class aircraft, the 19-mile flight from the UK’s Cranfield airport marked an important step towards the commercial launch of zero-emission flights. It is the first time a hydrogen-powered plane of the same stature as a commercial aircraft has made the journey.
The next step will be to test the technology on a flight of up to 340 miles – the equivalent of travelling from London to Edinburgh – which will depart from the Orkney islands by the end of 2020. ZeroAvia wants to show that hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft are capable of covering the range of major aviation routes – and match the distances of fossil fuel aircraft.
ZeroAvia is an aviation company based in California and London that is focusing on introducing zero-emission, hydrogen-electric aircraft for passengers, package deliveries and agriculture by 2023.
Val Miftakhov, CEO of ZeroAvia, says: “While some experimental aircraft have [already] flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that UK passengers could soon be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon.”
In September 2019, the British government announced a £2.7 million grant for ZeroAvia to develop the first full-scale commercial hydrogen-powered plane. ZeroAvia was also invited by prime minister Boris Johnson to join the UK’s Jet Zero Council, and to help lead the UK towards achieving the first ever zero-emission long-haul passenger flight.
Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Developing aircraft that create less pollution will help the UK 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 UK.”
ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric aircraft will reportedly have lower operating costs than carbon-fuelled jets, as its fuel and maintenance expenses will be reduced – an important consideration for post Covid-19 economic growth.
The question remains whether solely electric long-haul flights will be possible, as some experts have said the batteries required to power a passenger jet of that size could be too heavy. Still, Airbus has recently announced its own hydrogen fuel programme, and is aiming to operate commercial transcontinental flights by 2035.