It’s not news that airlines have been looking for ways to become more environmentally friendly. This has been a particularly elusive goal for many companies, but ZeroAvia has been developing solutions to make it all possible.
For the past few years, the California-based company has been working on an innovative hydrogen-electric powertrain that can take the place of a combustion engine in a plane.
What started out in 2017 as a good idea is now being tested at an airfield in Great Britain.
The prototype engine, called the HyFlyer II, has been installed in a 19-seat Dornier 228. The plane has been making regular takeoffs and landings from Cotswold Airport this year.
ZeroAvia has designed this type of powertrain to be used with nine- to 19-passenger planes. It’s estimated that it can power the aircraft for up to 500 miles without needing a charge.
A more powerful model is also under development that can be utilized by larger planes and extend for longer distances without needing to be charged, such as for a 200-seat plane that can travel as far as 3,000 nautical miles without needing a charge.
Although the company’s advances in battery technology are impressive, what’s especially amazing is the lack of carbon emissions, something the industry has been aiming for.
While air travel is still more environmentally friendly and faster than shipping or ground transportation, airplanes collectively contribute a significant amount of carbon waste and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
That’s why investing in technology that can offer zero emissions and not require a new plane could be a smart move for an existing aviation company.
That fact also explains some of the growing, diverse interest in ZeroAvia’s powertrain. Companies like Amazon and Shell have offered encouragement because both of them could benefit from more sustainable air travel. Various air-freight companies also have expressed interest because this powertrain could be ideal for short-haul deliveries.
The company’s projects are also seeing support from various aviation trade groups, schools, governments, and multi-government associations interested in ways to cut waste and carbon emissions.
ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov, a licensed pilot, has even spoken with NASA about the feasibility of more sustainable alternatives to combustion engines and rocket fuel for future space missions and shuttle designs.
Even as research and development continue into the performance of the HyFlyer and related prototypes, the company is actively seeking partnerships and opportunities to collaborate with everyone from engineering firms to aviation companies.
In early November, ZeroAvia announced a brand-new deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., or HAL, that will put ZeroAvia’s zero-emission hydrogen-electric engines into Hindustan planes. A Memorandum of Understanding between both companies includes retrofitting its ZA600 engines into existing planes as well as including them when new planes are built.
Check out this sneak peek of ZeroAvia’s twin-engine 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft arriving at the Cotswold Airport in the UK. The #aircraft will be converted to hydrogen-electric propulsion. Click below to watch the full video. #SustainableAviation https://t.co/5fNRXqn1KC pic.twitter.com/jelE3NW7Bw
— ZeroAvia (@ZeroAvia) October 13, 2021
HAL and ZeroAvia plan on developing a Supplemental Type Certificate that will make this retrofitting or installation possible on HAL military and civilian planes, pending FAA approval.
Engineers from HAL also plan to come to Great Britain to work with the Dornier 228 prototype that is currently being tested. This will ensure that it works as promised, truly has zero emissions, and also meets the airline’s standards of safety and operational requirements.
HAL has been working with Dornier aircraft since 1981 and uses them for flight testing. It also produces subassemblies for 150 of these planes and maintains a production line of them in India.
In addition to the possibility of powering the HAL fleet, ZeroAvia has also made arrangements to power another company’s planes.
In early November, ZeroAvia announced an agreement with ASL Aviation Holdings, an international aviation service that offers freight service through Europe, Africa, and Asia. This partnership will allow ZeroAvia to convert 10 ATR72 planes from combustion engines to hydrogen-electric powertrains with zero emissions.
The process will start by converting a retired ATR72F, which will be a good way to test the technology. Once this research is complete, more planes in the fleet will be converted. The goal is to have the new propulsion system aboard its planes by 2026.
ZeroAvia’s Future Outlook
These relationships are just the beginning of what ZeroAvia hopes will be solid interest over the next few years.
They hope these powertrains will be available to be able to start being sold commercially by 2024, and after a year of installing them, will be in place.
Company officials estimate that companies that switch to ZeroAvia equipment can save as much as 50% when switching to this type of aircraft. This includes saving on maintenance and fuel costs.
It also is working on options for refueling/recharging, which could offer advantages including longer time in the air and less time recharging on the ground.
ZeroAvia has also made arrangements with Rotterdam The Hague Airport to offer the first hydrogen-electric international passenger route, based on 19-seat aircraft.