The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Embraer Commits to Hydrogen Propulsion Trials, As Electric Flight Testing Begins

Embraer says it will have a hydrogen-powered technology demonstrator aircraft flying by 2025. Addressing an August 13 briefing on the company’s commitment to supporting environmentally sustainable aviation, the Brazilian airframer did not specify whether the aircraft will be a new design or a converted version of one of its existing airliners or business aircraft.

Luis Carlos Affonso, the company’s v-p of engineering, technology development, and corporate strategy, said the hydrogen demonstrator program will focus on evaluating technical, economic, and supply chain aspects of integrating hydrogen powerplant systems into an airframe. The confirmation that Embraer is considering hydrogen as a fuel source follows in the footsteps of Airbus, which is now working to bring a family of short- and medium-range airliners to market from 2035 through its ZeroE program.

Last week, Embraer made a first test flight in one of its EMB-203 Ipanema crop-spraying aircraft that has been converted to electric propulsion. Along with the four-passenger eVTOL aircraft now being developed by its Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions subsidiary to enter service in 2026, Embraer presented this program as evidence of its long-term commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

The Ipanema was fitted with an electric powertrain developed by Embraer’s partner WEG and batteries provided by energy group EDP. The test flights, which are being conducted at the company’s Gavião Peixoto facility, are mainly focused on evaluating power, performance, control, thermal management, and operational safety.

For now, Embraer has not specified a long-term plan for converting any of its existing aircraft to electric power or developing new models (apart from Eve’s eVTOL design). The company said the goal of the flight trials is to evaluate the powertrain in operational conditions to build on the results of simulations, lab tests, and ground integration work that has been underway since the second half of 2019.

The company confirmed that learnings from the technology demonstrator trials will support the development of new products, including the eVTOL, which it refers to as the Electric Vertical Aircraft. Having already flown a one-third-scale eVTOL prototype, it is now building a full-scale prototype that it aims to get certified by the end of 2025.

Responding to a question from FutureFlight, Neto said that ongoing negotiations to spin off the Eve business unit with special purpose acquisition company Zanite Acquisition are "moving well" and that Embraer is "optimistic with this process." If the merger proceeds, it is expected to be followed by a flotation of the combined company's shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

In an extended briefing for analysts and media, the Brazilian airframer announced its commitment to achieving carbon-neutral operations by 2040. It provided few details on a multi-pronged effort to implement new propulsion technologies as part of the wider effort to support the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change by making the aviation industry net-zero in terms of carbon emissions by 2050. In addition to advancing plans for electric and hydrogen aircraft, Embraer intends to convert all its existing business jets and airliners to be able to use sustainable aviation fuels.

“At Embraer, we recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and we are fully committed to a more sustainable future,” Neto said. Internally, the company is aiming for a 50 percent reduction in net carbon emissions by 2040 (from a 2018 baseline) and for 100 percent of its energy needs to be from renewable sources by 2030.

Neto also deferred providing more detail on Embraer’s plans to develop a new 70- to 90-seat turboprop airliner that it said would deliver 20 percent improvements in fuel burn and emissions compared with its EJets family of jetliners.

The Embraer boss expressed particular optimism about the U.S. market, where he said airlines have shown “a lot of interest” in the company’s proposed partnership on a 70- to 90-seat turboprop offering. He said this would have the same cross-section as its existing family of E-Jets regional airliners, promising more details on the program later this year.

Embraer confirmed it is also working on a hybrid-electric STOL utility aircraft under a program called Stout. This work is supported by Brazil’s air force.