The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

ZeroAvia Starts Work on 19-Seat Hydrogen-Powered Airliner, With Funding In Place For 50-plus Seater

ZeroAvia has secured two 19-seat Dornier 228 turboprops for the next phase of its hydrogen-electric-powered aircraft development efforts, the company said on Tuesday. The company plans to replace the aircraft’s twin engines with two 600 kW electric powertrain units and hydrogen fuel tanks eventually holding 100 kg (220 pounds) of compressed gaseous hydrogen to support a projected 500-mile range. The tanks will be mounted on the wings of the aircraft.

The California-based company said its work is progressing on the software, hardware, mechanical integration, and fuel cell balance-of-plant to the certifiable state. It expects to gain certification in 2024, clearing the way for the aircraft to start regional airline services.

The company plans to fly the airplanes, which have been provided by UK-based operator Aurigny Air and AMC Aviation of the U.S., in trials conducted on either side of the Atlantic. Both aircraft have previously flown in revenue service for regional flights, and ZeroAvia's intention is to demonstrate the opportunity for carbon reduction on existing routes.

ZeroAvia’s 19-seat research and development work will form part of HyFlyer II, the second project it has led with backing from the UK government to target the development of a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. As part of the HyFlyer I program, ZeroAvia successfully demonstrated a 250kW powerplant in a six-seat aircraft across three flight test campaigns, achieving all the project’s technical goals, including fuel-cell-only cruise flight.

However, the HyFlyer I work was interrupted when the Piper M Series aircraft used as a testbed crashed in a field near the UK’s Cranfield Airport in April. ZeroAvia says it will use all the lessons of HyFlyer I in the development of a 600kW 19-seater powerplant in HyFlyer II.  It is still considering how to conclude that project based on a full review.

In the June 29 announcement, ZeroAvia also reported that it has secured another $13 million from AP Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, SGH Capital, Agartha Fund LP, and existing investors Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, Systemiq, and Horizons Ventures. This will be used to support its longer-term plans to develop a hydrogen propulsion system for a commercial aircraft with 50 or more seats.

The new funding complements the initial investment of $24 million the company announced earlier this year. It brings the total private investment into ZeroAvia large engine development for the aircraft to $37 million. 

“We are eager and ready to begin testing our hydrogen-electric powertrain technology on a larger commercial-size aircraft and grateful to our investors and grant funders for their continued support of our vision for sustainable aviation,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia. “Various projections indicate that aviation may account for over 25 percent of human-induced climate effects by 2050. We are on a path to helping reverse that trend, first with our successful six-seater testing and now with the R&D for our 19-seater, and the kick-off of our 50-plus seat program. Hydrogen is the only practical solution for true climate-neutral flight and it will become a commercial reality much sooner than many predict.”

ZeroAvia’s new 30,000-square foot Kemble facility in west of England will serve as the dedicated base for developing ZeroAvia’s 600kW engine class and marks a significant investment in and expansion of its UK-based R&D program. Its headquarters team in Hollister, California, will assist their UK colleagues with testing and take responsibility for building the second demonstration aircraft for commercialization of technology in North America. The company currently employs about 50 people and plans to expand to more than 100 in the next 12 months across both the U.S. and UK.

In recent weeks, ZeroAvia has increased its leadership team with the recruitment of a new chief technology officer for propulsion Youcef Abdelli, who was previously with electric propulsion group MagniX and Amazon Prime Air. Other new recruits include Sir Tim Anderson as a regulatory and safety advisor. The former Royal Air Force officer was previously director-general of the UK Military Aviation Authority, chief operating officer of the airline Flybe and chair of the UK Airspace Change Organizing Group Steering Committee. Retired U.S. Navy admiral and former Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite is joining the group as a board observer.