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20 July 2022

Aviation gets first chance to show off Farnborough since 2019

By Bogdan Avramuta

The aviation business is no longer moribund – it’s official – with announcements at Farnborough this week – the first airshow in 3 years-  coming thick and fast. There was wheeler dealing among innovators pushing hydrogen, among those who think SAF is the future, and simply the major aircraft makers finally confident enough to talk about new deals.

To us the most fascinating stories were those told by hydrogen companies such as ZeroAvia, but given that no-one in aviation has been able to get together since the 2019 Paris Airshow, most companies were just glad to be in front of potential clients.

While companies like Airbus and Boeing were desperate to announce orders at the show, it was tiny ZeroAvia that found multiple deals to announce.

It announced an order from De Havilland for 30 more hydrogen power trains, having already signed a deal in 2021 as part of a $35 million funding round, to swap the shares for 50 orders from De Havilland. It plans to retrofit these ZA2000 powertrains to the De Havilland Dash-8 aircraft.

It also signed two memorandums of understanding (MoU) with Ravn Alaska, a regional aviation firm and PowerCell Sweden, a spinout from Volvo, which works with PEM Fuel Cells. Ravn will use De Havilland Dash-8s, for turboprop regional transport throughout Alaska.

In less than four years, ZeroAvia has gone from crazy idea to signing partnership deals with huge flight companies  – for instance last year with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for developing a jet power train – to getting support from governments and attracting investors such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and British Airways.

ZeroAvia will be glad to add all this to its already active partnership with Monte whereby it will purchase 100 ZA600 powertrains and the two firms will collaborate on retrofitting and maintaining aircraft. Back in April, ZeroAvia also partnered with ZEV Station to develop green hydrogen refueling stations for airports in California.

But every type of business was announcing something at Farnborough – the big Boeing news was 737 MAX getting back in the game, with an order from Delta Airlines for 100 to 130 of the planes, and rumors at the show that both Airbus and Boeing are about to land wide body jet sales with Air India.

Boeing has also unveiled a digital modelling tool, named “Cascade”, which it claims can predict how each renewable technology will impact the industry’s push towards net zero, which Boeing just pledged to achieve itself by 2050, a decision we firmly don’t believe, but it will unleash a series of current sales for older generation products. The people at Boeing claim SAF will play a major role in the transition to green aviation, but in reality SAF emits similar levels of carbon dioxide as kerosene, and the only difference is that is can be made from sustainable, renewable feedstocks.

While in 2019 Airbus told the world it would have its first hydrogen airliner by 2035, Boeing was far more cautious, not even admitting to looking at hydrogen. Now at the show, just a few years later Boeing reveals it has  conducted a test on a 16,000 gallon liquid hydrogen cryotank that has been under development since 2015.

eVTOL maker Supernal announced a collaboration with Hyundai to build a new interior cabin concept for an eVTOL it plans to bring into commercial use in the United States in 2028, and additionally, Rolls Royce this week has another deal with Hyundai on fuel cells for the advanced air mobility market.