The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

New Funding Backs ZeroAvia's Plans for Hydrogen-Powered Regional Airliners

ZeroAvia today disclosed plans to develop a 50-seat airliner powered by hydrogen with the work to be supported by $24.3 million in new capital. New investors in the California-based startup include British Airways, with the latest funding round led by Horizons Ventures and existing backers Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and Systemiq.

According to ZeroAvia, which has now raised nearly $74 million, including $53 million in private investment and a UK government grant of around $16.3 million, it is aiming to get a 50-seat aircraft into commercial service by 2026, using its 2 MW powerplant to convert existing regional airliners such as the ATR42 and the Bombardier Dash 8. It believes that by 2030, a 100-seat airliner could run on a more powerful version of the technology.

Currently, ZeroAvia is working on integrating a 600 kW hydrogen-electric powertrain with an aircraft seating up to 19 passengers, such as the Dornier Do228 twin turboprop model that it is using as a testbed. The company is aiming to bring this to market by 2024 with a range of around 500 miles.

British Airways has not disclosed how much it has contributed to ZeroAvia’s latest funding round. In a March 31 statement, the carrier avoided making a specific commitment to operate the 50- or 100-seat aircraft, but CEO Sean Doyle said that the investment in hydrogen-powered aircraft is part of its plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions on short-haul routes by 2050. According to ZeroAvia it now has 15 letters of intent covering possible orders from 15 undisclosed airlines. 

Based on its grant from the UK Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, issued through the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK, ZeroAvia is basing its development work at Cranfield in England. Its efforts to date have been based on converting smaller aircraft such as the six-seat Piper M Series, which it is using as a flying testbed. The company is currently preparing to conduct a flight of around 70 miles between Cranfield and its new base at Kemble airfield in southern England. Later this year, it aims to conduct a flight of around 250 miles from the Orkney Islands to the Scottish mainland. 

The company faces competition from Universal Hydrogen, which has partnered with fuel cell and energy distribution specialist Plug Power to develop plans to convert aircraft to hydrogen propulsion. The California-based company has identified existing 40- to 60-seat regional airliners, including the ATR42 and the Dash 8, as suitable for conversion and says that these could enter commercial service beginning in 2025 and have a potential range of over 600 miles.

Universal Hydrogen's plans for how hydrogen will be supplied to aircraft appear to be more advanced. Its concept for operations sees refillable hydrogen capsules being delivered to airports and fitted in the rear of the aircraft, which the company says will avoid the need for costly new fuel supply infrastructure.

ZeroAvia also announced that former Air France-KLM vice president Christine Ourmieres-Widener is joining its board of directors. She was formerly CEO of European regional airlines CityJet and FlyBe and a governor for the International Air Transport Association.

The company advisory board has also been bolstered by the appointments of Mike Friend, a retired Boeing senior technology director and consultant for Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft, which has been working on a long-term project to develop a new airliner. Another new appointment to the advisory board is Mike Blair, who was formerly vice president of air operations for package delivery group Fedex and director of fleet and government sales with Cessna Aircraft.