History was made in January 2023 when ZeroAvia, a British/American hydrogen-electric aircraft developer, announced that it had completed a flight with its 19-seat Dornier 228 twin-engine jet powered with a hydrogen-electric engine. This was a major breakthrough for the company’s HyFlyer II project, as it was the world’s largest plane to complete a flight using green energy.
ZeroAvia’s breakthrough was also a major win for the planet. With more flights powered by clean energy, there would be less harmful carbon pollution, and the aviation industry’s climate change impact would be significantly addressed.
“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,” CEO and Founder of ZeroAvia, Val Miftakov, said while celebrating this great feat, “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.”
However, this remarkable achievement for ZeroAvia was short-lived, as Universal Hydrogen, another aerospace company, broke the record less than two months later.
On March 2, Universal Aerospace flew a much larger plane powered by hydrogen fuel cell propulsion on its first test flight. The 40-seater jet, nicknamed Lightning McClean, flew for 15 minutes after taking off from Grant County International Airport (KMWH) at 8:41 a.m. It was able to reach an altitude of 3,500 MSL.
Paul Eremenko, co-founder of Universal Hydrogen, took to X (formerly Twitter) to share a video clip of this ground-breaking development on March 3. “So this happened today.. first test flight of the world’s biggest hydrogen fuel cell airliner, powered by green hydrogen. It’s been a very long, epic day,” he wrote in his tweet.
Universal Hydrogen isn’t resting on its oars. The company wants to take this milestone a step further by partnering with Connect Airlines to complete commercial flights by 2026.
CEO of Connect Airlines, John Thomas, has expressed how excited he is about Universal Hydrogen’s latest accomplishment in a press release. In his words, “at Connect Airlines are extremely proud of the role that we, as the first U.S. operator, will play in leading the way with Universal Hydrogen.”
Thomas also disclosed his company’s plan to become the first zero-emission airline in North America as a significant step in the broader goal of decarbonizing the global airline industry.
To this end, the airline has already made a first-position US order with Universal Hydrogen to transition its 75 ATR 72-600 regional jets to hydrogen power. It has also secured the rights to purchase 25 more aircraft conversations.
However, it’s worthy of note that there are multiple contenders with similar dreams. According to reports, ZeroAvia, Rolls Royce, and Airbus are carrying out tests on hydrogen fuel-powered jets. While this competition is fierce, it’s also great that many airlines are towing this line, as the airline industry remains one of the fastest-growing culprits in the emission of harmful carbons.
If everything goes well, planes will be able to run on green energy and ditch the dirty fuel sources that they have been used to.