Plans for Transatlantic liquid Hydrogen eco-plane take flight

The plane could carry up to 279 passengers
The midsize aircraft is being designed to carry 279 passengers at the same speed and comfort as today's airliners Credit: Artist impression/Department of Transport

A liquid hydrogen-powered plane is being developed in an attempt to operate non-stop zero carbon transatlantic flights.

The plane is being developed through the £15 million Government-funded FlyZero project led by the Aerospace Technology Institute, based at Cranfield, Bedfordshire.

The midsize aircraft is being designed to carry 279 passengers at the same speed and comfort as today's airliners. It is hoped it could fly from London to San Francisco on the west coast of the US without stopping, or from London to New Zealand with one refuelling stop.

Cranfield has already played a leading role in developing zero-carbon alternatives for the aviation industry. The world’s first flight by a “commercially available aircraft” powered by hydrogen fuel cells took place at Cranfield Airport in September 2020.

The world's first test flight of a plane powered by hydrogen fuel cells took place last year Credit: ITV News

The six-seater Piper Malibu plane completed the 20-minute flight using zero-emission hydrogen as part of the HyFlyer project supported by a Government grant.

The University is also involved in Project Fresson. The University's aviation firm - Cranfield Aerospace Solutions - is working with industrial partners hopes to launch short-haul electric flight to the Highlands and Islands by 2025.

The new hydrogen plane has been heralded by the FlyZero project's director Chris Gear as a 'new dawn for aviation' as the only waste product from using liquid hydrogen as a fuel is water.

He said:

"At a time of global focus on tackling climate change, our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel keeping families, businesses andnations connected without the carbon footprint.

"This new dawn for aviation brings with it real opportunities for the UK aerospace sector to secure market share, highly skilled jobs and inward investment, while helping to meet the UK's commitments to fight climate change."

  • Watch a video about the FlyZero project

Designs of the aircraft have been unveiled ahead of the fourth meeting of the Jet Zero Council, which is chaired by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and features ministers and aviation leaders working together with the aim of reducing the sector's carbon emissions.

Mr Shapps said: "As we build back greener, it's crucial that we place sustainability at the heart of the aviation industry's recovery from Covid-19.

"This pioneering design for a liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft, led by a British organisation, brings us one step closer to a future where people can continue to travel and connect, but without the carbon footprint.

"I will continue to work closely with the Jet Zero Council to support the UK's world-leading research in this sector, which will create green jobs, help us meet our ambitious net zero targets and lead the global transition to net zero aviation."

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: "These designs could define the future of aerospace and aviation. By working with industry, we are showing that truly carbon-free flight could be possible, with hydrogen a front runner to replace conventional fossil fuels.

"Fuelling planes sustainably will enable the public to travel as we do now, but in a way that doesn't damage the planet. It will not only help us to end our contribution to climate change, but also represents a huge industrial opportunity for the UK."