The US start up based in Los Angeles, Universal Hydrogen, recently successfully tested a hydrogen-powered aircraft (ATR 72) that according to the company accomplished a 15-minute flight from the Grant County International Airport in Washington, which was primarily flown using hydrogen fuel. The flight was operated by one pilot and two flight crew at an altitude of around 3,500 feet (1066 meters). It is currently the largest aircraft that used hydrogen power.
The company replaced one of two turbine engines with a hydrogen fuel-cell engine. The aircraft equipped with 40 passenger seats are modified using fuel cells made especially for usage in the aviation industry. Originally, the ATR 72 is able to accommodate 50 passengers, but the liquid hydrogen tank reduced the capacity. According to the company, “By providing both an aircraft conversion solution for the existing fleet and a fuel services offering directly to regional airlines, we will be in passenger service with zero emissions by 2025 and in cargo service shortly after that.”
The test flight for a Federal Aviation Authority Special Airworthiness Certificate was conducted together with Connect Airlines and Amelia Airlines. The testing is expected to be completed in 2025. As said by the CEO of Connect Airlines, John Thomas, “We have committed to being North America’s first zero-emission airline, and this historic flight, taking hydrogen, which can be made with nothing but sunshine and emitting only water, is a key milestone on our journey.”
According to Universal Hydrogen, over 247 aircraft conversions have been ordered by 16 global customers, with a value of over $1 billion in modifications. Currently, such aircraft can only fly on short hauls, but with further development, it is expected that longer-haul airplanes could also be hydrogen-powered.
In order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, hydrogen is considered to be a key enabler of the energy transition and will enter the transport sector such as aviation in the following years.