World’s first commercial hydrogen-powered flight proves the concept, but it still needs the infrastructure

Emilee Geist

Just days after Airbus announced its intentions to hydrogenize its fleet, residents of southern counties in England saw the world’s first commercial hydrogen-powered flight.

According to a Sky News report, the water vapor-emitting flight took place yesterday taking off from an airfield in Bedfordshire, England.

The company behind the plane, ZeroAvia, says the tech needed for a long, zero-emission flight by the end of this decade, is already there. It’s just a case of developing hydrogen infrastructure — something that Airbus’ hydrogen dreams also rely on if they’re to succeed.

[Read: 5 things to know when you’re buying your first electric vehicle]

Luckily, because it’s a small, short journey plane, it doesn’t require as much from infrastructure as huge airline operators like Airbus do, so it stands a greater chance of proving its concept in the current climate.

“It’s not just a question of putting hydrogen-based airplanes and getting them to work, we need the infrastructure on the ground to support everything,” David Gleave, aviation safety investigator and researcher at Loughborough University told Sky News.

We have to work out how to refuel these aeroplanes because existing infrastructure won’t work and we have to work out other things such as the fire and rescue requirements for the aeroplane, so there’s quite a lot of work to do.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, though. This was just a first step toward cleaner planes that will take decades to take. But it’s an important step nonetheless.

Mass commercial flights still seem a way off. The plane used in this 20-minute test flight is a small six-seater craft, running on a single propeller, but ZeroAvia does have plans to make these flights available within three years.

Credit: <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ZeroAvia - Facebook" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ZeroAvia - Facebook</a>
Credit: ZeroAvia – Facebook

The next milestone for the company is to test its tech over a much longer distance, 250 miles in fact, when it’s going to fly from Orkney.

The folks at ZeroAvia estimate that hydrogen-powered flight tech is on track to be able to offer long distance, zero-emission flights by the end of this decade. That’s positive to hear, particularly given that Airbus, one of the world’s largest plane makers, has plans to start rolling out a hydrogen fleet by 2035.

However, in both cases, a big decider of success depends on how much airports support and develop hydrogen infrastructure.

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