First Flight of Regional Jet Powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells–40-Seater is Largest Ever to Fly

​A Connect Airlines ATR 72-600 Regional Aircraft with a Universal Hydrogen engine – Released

A fledgling energy company looking to develop true zero-emissions aircraft just took a massive leap forward with the first-ever regional passenger flight powered principally on hydrogen.

A 40-seat aircraft took off at 8:41 am from Grant County International Airport and flew for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,500 MSL.

The flight, conducted under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate, was the first in a two-year flight test campaign expected to culminate in 2025 with entry into passenger service of ATR 72 regional aircraft converted to run on hydrogen.

Representatives from an equally-fledgling airline looking to develop a smarter travel experience were there to oversee their own aircraft.

The airline in question, Connect Airlines, just recently signed a purchase agreement with Universal Hydrogen co. for 75 hydrogen powertrains for their passenger jets.

“Today will go down in the history books as the true start to the decarbonization of the global airline industry and we at Connect Airlines are extremely proud of the role that we, as the first US operator, will play in leading the way with Universal Hydrogen,” said John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines.

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For safety, only one of the ATR 72-600’s engines was replaced with Universal Hydrogen’s megawatt-class hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for safety purposes. The technology is not adapted, but rather purpose-built for aviation.

The energy generated by the burning of hydrogen feeds directly into the electric motor. This means there are no batteries onboard which drastically cuts down on costs and weight.

“Our business model resolves the chicken-and-egg problem between hydrogen airplanes and hydrogen infrastructure by developing both in parallel and with a uniquely low-cost approach,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen.

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“The airplanes are converted to hydrogen using an aftermarket retrofit conversion kit, tackling the existing fleet rather than developing a brand new airplane. And hydrogen fueling uses modular capsules compatible with existing freight networks and airport cargo handling equipment, making every airport in the world hydrogen-ready.”

Worldwide air travel accounts for about 2.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen fuel is theorized as one of two possible ways to decarbonize it, with the other being biofuels.

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