A major advance in the future of zero-emission aviation took place this month when a ZeroAvia aircraft took off on a 10-minute flight in the U.K., making history as the world’s largest aircraft to be powered by a hydrogen-electric engine. The prototype aircraft and all systems involved “performed as expected,” according to a press release issued by the company, stoking excitement about the environmentally friendly implications for the aviation industry and the planet.
The maiden flight took place on January 19 at ZeroAvia’s R&D facility at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, with the aircraft successfully completing taxi, take-off, a full pattern circuit, and landing. Called the Dornier 228, the 19-seat, twin-engine aircraft was retrofitted with the modified hydrogen-electric engine on its left wing. The “landmark flight” was part of a larger project known as HyFlyer II, backed by the U.K. government’s ATI Programme, which intends to develop the technology to make zero-emission flights possible for smaller (9-19 seat) aircraft.
The successful flight is generating optimism that a certifiable configuration may be finalized and submitted for certification at some point in 2023, with a goal to eventually apply the technology to larger aircraft over the next decade. It’s part of a wider permit program under the purview of the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, which comes with a “much more stringent set of requirements.”
“Today’s flight is a hugely exciting vision of the future — guilt-free flying and a big step forward for zero-emission air travel,” said Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s secretary of state for business . “The U.K. is a world leader in green aviation technology, and the global shift to cleaner forms of flight represents a huge opportunity to secure growth and jobs for our country. That’s why we are backing businesses who share our ambitions, reaping the benefits of green technology and growing the thousands of new, skilled jobs that come with it.”
As noted by CBS News, commercial carriers such as American and United Airlines are counted among ZeroAvia’s investors. Given the aviation industry’s status as “one of the world’s most pollutive” industries, per CBS, hydrogen-focused technologies carry incredible promise in decarbonizing air travel. The successful test flight suggests that ZeroAvia’s goal of operating commercial airline travel with its technology by 2025 may indeed become a reality.
“This is a major moment, not just for ZeroAvia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it shows that true zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away. The first flight of our 19-seat aircraft shows just how scalable our technology is and highlights the rapid progress of zero-emission propulsion,” ZeroAvia’s Founder and CEO Val Miftakhov said in a statement.
“This is only the beginning — we are building the future of sustainable, zero climate impact aviation. Our approach is the best solution to accelerate clean aviation at scale. Congratulations to everyone on our team and all of our partners and stakeholders for the collective effort that brought us to this monumental day in history.”