This Hydrogen-Powered Passenger Jet Could Bring Us Zero-Emission Flying. The FAA Just Cleared It for Testing.
It will be the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft to ever take flight.
BY Bryan Hood  |  March 26, 2023
2 Minute Read

Universal Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen’s first plane has been officially cleared for takeoff.

The Southern California–based aerospace start-up has just received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to start testing its 40-passenger hydrogen-electric airplane. When it does finally take flight, it will be the largest hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered aircraft to hit the skies.

Universal Hydrogen, which received investment from JetBlue in 2021, announced on Tuesday that the FAA had granted it a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category. The approval means that its flying testbed, the Dash 8-300, can now be flown out of the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash.

The Dash 8-300 features a megawatt-class hydrogen-fuel-cell power train installed in one of its nacelles that allows it to run on zero-carbon-emitting hydrogen. Unlike most of its hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered peers, the plane does not use a hybrid-battery architecture. Instead, it utilizes an innovative setup that transfers power directly from the fuel cells to its electric motor, drastically reducing weight and lifecycle cost, according to the start-up. Once finished, the aircraft will be able to carry over 40 passengers. Tuesday’s announcement was accompanied by a video showing the Dash 8-300 completing its first taxi test.

“We are simultaneously providing a pragmatic, near-term solution for hydrogen infrastructure and delivery, as well as for converting existing passenger aircraft to use this lightweight, safe, and true-zero-emissions fuel,” Universal Hydrogen cofounder and CEO Paul Eremenko said in a statement. “Today’s milestones are essential, important steps to putting the industry on a trajectory to meet Paris Agreement obligations. The only alternative is curtailing aviation traffic growth to curb emissions.”

The Dash-300 isn’t the only project Universal Hydrogen has in the works, according to Electrek. The company is also working on a conversion kit that allows the ATR 72-600 regional aircraft to run on hydrogen instead of traditional fuel. Universal Hydrogen expects it to be certified and ready for commercial passenger service by 2025. The start-up is also hard at work developing an eVTOL.