The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Universal Hydrogen Joins Deutsche Aircraft's Project To Convert Dornier 328 Regional Airliner

Universal Hydrogen has begun studies with Deutsche Aircraft to evaluate the potential for installing its modular hydrogen capsules in the Dornier 328 regional airliner. The collaboration, announced on July 21, follows a related partnership agreement between Germany-based Deutsche Aircraft and H2Fly to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology for the twin-turboprop aircraft.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed on July 6, Deutsche Aircraft and H2Fly are aiming to get a demonstrator aircraft flying in 2025, with a view to supporting commercial operations with up to 40 passengers. The Dornier 328 aircraft is currently powered by Pratt & Whitney turboprop engines.

California-based Universal Hydrogen is working on its own plans to install a complete hydrogen powertrain in other regional airliners, including ATR42s and Dash 8s. For those projects, it is partnered with U.S.-based fuel-cell specialist PlugPower, which is one of its investors. 

Deutsche Aircraft and Universal Hydrogen will analyze the size and integration of the modular capsule technology for hydrogen storage into the aircraft structures and systems. They will also consider aircraft weight and balance, the cost of infrastructure and fuel, mission performance, and hydrogen logistics network design.

The planned demonstrator aircraft to be developed with Deutsche Aircraft will have a much more powerful 1.5-MW hydrogen system. The partners are aiming to certify hydrogen-powered aircraft under the requirements of EASA’s CS-25 class for certifying larger commercial airliners.

Deutsche Aircraft is already working on a conversion program for the Dornier 328, called the D328eco, which will be offer as a stop-gap solution before the longer-term improvements in propulsion can be brought to market. This involves stretching the fuselage of the existing regional airliner by two meters to accommodate up to 43 passengers and installing new Pratt & Whitney PW127S engines that can run on sustainable aviation fuel. The company aims to complete the preliminary design review for this project in September and expects to have the aircraft in production by 2025.

Essentially, Deutsche Aircraft is exploring two parallel options for hydrogen propulsion as part of its D328eco+ program. "We see our cooperation with both companies as key and complementary to help us develop the technology bricks we need to bring hydrogen applications to maturity," a company spokesperson told FutureFlight. "We believe in the potential of hydrogen to help us reach this goal, but we can't be sure at this stage that hydrogen technologies will work for aircraft."

The Dornier 328 aircraft is purely being used as a demonstration platform for the two projects. It would not necessarily form the basis for a potential hydrogen-powered aircraft development in the future.