‘Largest-ever’ hydrogen plane to begin real-world testing after regulator approval
Image credit: Oliver Kay
A hydrogen-powered aircraft has been granted a permit to fly by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) following a testing programme.
ZeroAvia’s Dornier 228 aircraft has been retrofitted with a prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain, meaning the firm can now begin the first test flights of its 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrain.
The 19-seat twin-engine aircraft has been retrofitted in an engineering testbed configuration to incorporate ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric engine powering the propellor on its left wing, operating alongside a single Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on the right to allow for redundancy if something should go wrong.
When test flights begin in January, the Dornier 228 testbed is expected to become “the largest aircraft to ever fly using a hydrogen-electric powertrain,” ZeroAvia said.
Reducing carbon emissions from the aviation sector is notoriously difficult, with many environmental campaigners and experts arguing that there is no choice but to reduce flying in order to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
Most efforts to reduce emissions at present are focused on increasing the fraction of fuel sourced sustainably, although sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) remains relatively inaccessible and expensive.
Planes powered by hydrogen is one way to achieve zero carbon flight as long as the hydrogen itself is created through electrolysis powered by a renewable source rather than harvested from fossil fuels. Currently, only around one per cent of the world’s hydrogen can be considered zero carbon.
For this testing program, ZeroAvia said it has worked with the CAA in meeting a more stringent set of requirements when compared to the framework it used for its 6-seat prototype in 2020.
Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia CEO, said: “Earning our full Part 21 permit to fly with the CAA is a critical milestone as we develop a zero-emission aviation propulsion system that will be the most environmental and economical solution to the industry’s climate impact.
“We’re going to be starting 2023 in the best way possible, by demonstrating through flight that true zero-emission commercial flight is much closer than many think.”
It will pave the way for a commercially certifiable hydrogen powertrain – the ZA600 – by the end of 2023.
This could see the first commercial routes for 9-19 seat aircraft powered solely by hydrogen launching by 2025, ZeroAvia said.
The firm currently has some 1,500 engines under pre-order alongside partnerships with seven aircraft manufacturers.
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