The first flight of a commercially available aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells has taken place this week, while the UK government launches a council to decarbonise the aviation industry.

ZeroAvia, which aims to scale up zero-emissions aviation, carried out the 20-minute flight from its R&D facility at Cranfield Airport this week, according to E&T.

“It’s hard to put into words what this means to our team, but also for everybody interested in zero-emission flight,” said ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov. “While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon.”

The light aircraft (a six-seater Piper Malibu) was powered by zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells. The technology has been developed as part of the UK government-funded HyFlyer Project, which aims to decarbonise medium-range light aircraft by replacing conventional piston engines with electric motors, gas storage, and hydrogen fuel cells.

ZeroAvia is aiming to complete a 250-mile flight – equivalent to popular short-haul flights like London-Edinburgh or LA-San Francisco – before the end of the year.

Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Developing aircraft that create less pollution will help the UK make significant headway in achieving net zero-carbon emissions by 2050. Backed by government funding, this flight is another exciting milestone in ZeroAvia’s project.

“It shows that technologies to clean up air travel are now at our fingertips, with enormous potential to build back better and drive clean economic growth in the UK.”

Aviation minister Robert Courts said: “Aviation is a hotbed of innovation and ZeroAvia’s fantastic technology takes us all one step closer to a sustainable future for air travel. Through our ground-breaking Jet Zero partnership we’re working hard with industry to drive innovation in zero-carbon flight, and we look forward to seeing the sector go from strength to strength.”

The government has launched the ‘Jet Zero Council’ – a coalition of government, business, trade bodies and environmental groups – to help the aviation sector make a green recovery after Covid-19 caused global passenger numbers to plunge 95 per cent. This will include “making net-zero [aviation] possible”. Its members include leaders from Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Heathrow, the International Airlines Group, and Shell, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

Earlier this week, Airbus revealed three zero-emission aircraft concepts – all using hydrogen as a primary power source – which it says could enter service by 2035.

Sources: E&T

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