Eco Innovation

First companies for Hydrogen Challenge announced

28th February 2024
Paige West

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has chosen three companies to enhance both industry and regulatory preparedness for the adoption of hydrogen fuel and emerging technologies.

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Exeter Airport Consortium, and ZeroAvia have been selected by the authority as participants in its Hydrogen Challenge.

Initiated in November 2023 with support from the Regulator’s Pioneer Fund, the challenge aims to harness hydrogen's potential as a zero-carbon aviation fuel.

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, one of the selected companies, is working on a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain for aircraft, planning to undertake ground and flight trials within the year.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority intends to collaborate with this organisation to pinpoint potential hazards, risks, and safety issues related to its initiative.

A study by Regional & City Airports, TUI, ULEMCo, and Cranfield University will investigate methods to minimise the environmental footprint of aircraft operations at Exeter Airport.

This consortium will utilise the challenge as a platform for members and the regulatory body to evaluate and provide input on safety protocols, testing procedures, and risk analyses, ultimately contributing to the formulation of future guidance and regulations.

ZeroAvia, which is in the process of developing hydrogen-electric engines for aviation and has already conducted test flights with a prototype system in a Dornier 228 under a UK Civil Aviation Authority Permit to Fly, will also collaborate with the authority to assess the hazards, risks, and safety concerns linked to retrofitting aircraft with a hydrogen-electric powertrain.

The Hydrogen Challenge by the UK Civil Aviation Authority exemplifies its commitment to working alongside the industry to forge the future of aviation, with the integration of hydrogen propulsion playing a crucial role in realising the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy.

Tim Johnson, Director of Strategy and Policy at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “The Hydrogen Challenge is key to helping both the sector and UK Civil Aviation Authority to better understand emerging hydrogen technologies and the regulatory steps to progress towards entry into service. 

“Working closely with the three selected companies will enable us to take a step closer towards a net zero aviation sector by supporting the industry to explore how feasible the introduction of hydrogen is and how we can make sure regulation develops with the technology and is fit for purpose.” 

Johannes Hien, Head of Design at Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, said: “At Cranfield Aerospace Solutions we are delighted to be able to contribute to the Hydrogen Challenge initiated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. 

“We see this as a unique approach for addressing practical challenges in utilising hydrogen fuel within an aircraft environment, which hasn't been attempted at this scale previously, neither domestically nor globally. 

“Being able to collaborate on the basis of real-life test examples and data should hugely benefit the building of a new regulatory framework, which thus far has mostly been a theoretical exercise.”

 Paul Harper, Director of Airworthiness & Certification at ZeroAvia, said: “With the ever-increasing optimism around hydrogen as the fuel of the future for aviation, it is critical that there is good knowledge sharing between the regulator and industry in this nascent area. 

“Given we are already flight testing and working with the UK Civil Aviation Authority on certification of our first engine, now is the right time for the Hydrogen Challenge to swing into action.” 

Professor Anna Smallwood, Head of Centre for Air Transport Management at Cranfield University:  “This collaborative project is an excellent example of how Cranfield University works closely with industry to enable real world progress towards sustainable aviation.

“Providing an independent coordinating role, connecting technology innovators with key players in industry, facilitating trials and providing an evidence base with academic integrity, it is exciting to contribute to developing solutions and provide pathways for the future.”

Andrew Bell, Chief Executive of Regional and City Airports, which owns and operates Exeter Airport, said: "This award builds on the groundbreaking research we are doing with our partners to reduce the environmental impact of aircraft turnarounds at airports. 

“Introducing hydrogen fuel to ground operations could be a gamechanger on the journey to net zero, and we're delighted be part of this exciting and potentially hugely significant project for the global aviation industry."

Amanda Lyne, Managing Director of ULEMCo, the hydrogen fuel provider said: “Our congratulations go to all the winners of the Hydrogen Challenge, and we wish them success in their exciting projects.

“Building on our experience converting vehicles such as aircraft tow trucks with safe hydrogen solutions, part of our role is to support customers and other users to accelerate the wider use cases for this clean fuel.”

Hydrogen as an aviation fuel is at an early stage of development, the sector does not yet have a comprehensive understanding of the risks to aviation safety and the right pathway to certification.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority will continue to address these issues through its Hydrogen Challenge, using a Regulatory Sandbox approach to make sure regulation is adapted and it fit for purpose for this new fuel.

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