UK’s First Commercial-Scale Electric Aircraft Takes Flight

Cranfield-based ZeroAvia has successfully completed the UK’s first commercial-scale electric flight using a modified Piper M-class six-seater aircraft.

The test, which was conducted yesterday (June 23), has been described by the firm as a “significant milestone” for the country’s net zero and green aviation ambitions.

The company, which also has a base in Hollister, California, is focused on developing a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. This differs from other electric aviation projects that are targeting battery-powered objectives.

ZeroAvia
The firm is using a modified Piper M-class six-seater as the platform for its powertrain development. ZeroAvia

ZeroAvia says hydrogen-electric offers the same zero-emission potential of battery-electric but has a much more promising energy-to-weight ratio, making it viable for commercial operations at a much larger scale.

“Today’s flight is the latest in a series of milestones that moves the possibility of zero emission flight closer to reality,” said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia founder and CEO. “We all want the aviation industry to come back after the pandemic on a firm footing to be able to move to a net zero future, with a green recovery. That will not be possible without realistic, commercial options for zero emission flight, something we will bring to market as early as 2023.”

The company’s British-based innovation programme is part of the UK Government-backed Project HyFlyer. Funded through non-departmental public body, Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), the venture aims to decarbonise medium-range small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional combustion engines in propeller powered types.

 

Simon Weeks, chief technology officer at ATI, said: “The ATI is delighted to see the first flight of ZeroAvia's battery-electric aircraft at Cranfield. This exciting ATI funded project is the next step in an effort to develop a commercial zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell powered commercial aircraft in the UK.”

Project HyFlyer is expected to culminate is a UK-based 250-300 nautical mile (460-555km) flight from the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

ZeroAvia aims to supply commercial operators and aircraft manufacturers in 2023, initially targeting up to 500-mile regional flights in 10-20 seat fixed-wing aircraft.