March 31, 2021

British Airways invests in hydrogen aviation startup ZeroAvia  

ZeroAvia raises £17.6m to accelerate plans for 50-person hydrogen aircraft

Maija Palmer

2 min read

By 2024, if you take a short-haul flight the aircraft could well be fuelled by hydrogen rather than jet fuel, as airlines try to minimise their environmental impact. 

The latest sign that airlines are becoming serious about hydrogen-powered flight came as British Airways invested in ZeroAvia, the UK startup developing hydrogen engines for aircraft. The company raised a £17.6m Series A round to accelerate plans to build engines that could fly a 50-seater aeroplane. 

The plan is to have an engine ready for commercial launch in 2024.

The plan is to have such an engine ready for commercial launch in 2024, said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia founder and CEO. 


ZeroAvia is already developing an engine for a 19-seater aircraft, with plans for a first test flight later this year. But Miftakhov said airlines had approached the company to see if they could build something larger. 

“We had a lot of interest from them, saying they wanted to engage with us on the 19-seat aircraft, but that most of their fleet was larger,” he told Sifted. “Some of their single-aisle aircraft traffic could migrate to 50 or 70-seater aircraft if it was zero-emission.” 

There is a visible move now to sustainability — and we fit right in there.

“Airlines were already interested in sustainability before the pandemic, as there was already starting to be flight-shaming, at least in Europe. But during the pandemic, a number of folks were rethinking their future — there is a visible move now to sustainability — and we fit right in there.”

Although some smaller aircraft, such as flying taxi services from Volocopter and Lilium, are planning to use electric batteries, these would not have the power density to lift larger planes. Hydrogen, which can provide 17,000-megawatt-hours per kilogram of fuel, is better suited to getting heavier aircraft off the ground. And while plans for hydrogen-fuelled cars haven’t taken off because of the complexities of creating a refuelling network, that would be less of a problem at airports, as relatively fewer hydrogen fuelling stations would be needed. 

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Last autumn Airbus also unveiled three concept aircraft powered by hydrogen, saying these could be ready to enter commercial service by 2035. Light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel is also developing hydrogen-powered planes, and Universal Hydrogen, a Los Angeles-based startup founded by former Airbus CTO Paul Eremenko, is developing a powertrain and a fuel distribution system that could be retrofitted into existing aircraft.  

Miftakhov said the entry of companies like Airbus into the sector was helping bring a sense of legitimacy to the concept of hydrogen aviation.

The below video shows ZeroAvia's test of an engine for a 6-seater aircraft, its most advanced project to date.