United planning to buy hydrogen engines

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

United Airlines says it plans to buy up to 100 hydrogen-electric engines for regional aircraft.

The carrier has taken an equity stake in ZeroAvia, which builds the zero-emission engines.

Hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to power an electric motor instead of burning fossil fuel.

The ZA2000-RJ engines could be retrofitted to existing United Express aircraft as early as 2028. One potential use is on the CRJ-550 regional jet.

United’s goal is to be 100 percent green by reducing its GHG emissions 100 percent by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.

“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United.

“United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions that the entire industry can adopt.”

The ZA2000-RJ is expected to be used in pairs as a new power source for existing regional aircraft. Under the agreement with United Airlines Ventures, United will pursue a conditional purchase agreement for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for 50 more, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft which would be operated by United Express partners once they are fully developed and certified by regulators as soon as 2028.

“This support by United, alongside our other forward-thinking partners, demonstrates the importance of hydrogen-electric propulsion in the future of sustainable flight,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO and of ZeroAvia.

“The United Express routes powered by hydrogen-electric aircraft will be enabling large numbers of passengers to take zero-emission flights well within this decade.”

ZeroAvia developing its ZA2000 engine and will soon begin ground tests of its ZA600 in a 19-seat aircraft, with the aim of entering commercial service with this smaller engine by 2024.

In September 2020, ZeroAvia completed the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft. ZeroAvia has already secured experimental certificates for two prototype aircraft from the FAA in the United States and the Civil Aviation Authority in the U.K. and has passed significant flight test milestones.