The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Leasing Group Rose Cay and Irish Cargo Carrier Back ZeroAvia Plans For Hydrogen Conversions

Asset management group Rose Cay Partners and Irish air freight carrier ASL this week announced plans to convert regional airliners to hydrogen propulsion in partnership with ZeroAvia. The commitments for ZeroAvia's plans to replace Jet A-burning twin turboprops with an hydrogen-electric powertrain were part of a flurry of announcements made by the California-based start-up to coincide with the ongoing United Nations COP26 climate change conference in Scotland.

Delaware-based Rose Cay, which describes itself as a "real asset special situations investment platform," said it intends to acquire up to 250 pre-owned aircraft to be converted to hydrogen power and then leased to operators. It did not specify which aircraft types it will market, but a publicity photo shows an ATR aircraft and the company's declared goal of making first deliveries in 2024 coincides with ZeroAvia's plans to bring 19-seat airframes like the Dornier 228 into commercial service.

According to Rose Cay, it intends to be involved in the deployment of hydrogen infrastructure at airports worldwide. In addition to aircraft, the company also manages assets in the real estate, telecommunications, transportation and logistics, and energy sectors.

ASL Aviation plans to convert 10 of its ATR72 freighter aircraft to hydrogen propulsion through a partnership with ZeroAvia. The twin-turboprop aircraft, which seats 72 people in passenger services, will be the largest model specified for ZeroAvia’s conversion process so far, although the California-based start-up has declared its intention to also work on larger regional jets with up to 100 seats.

Under a partnership announced on November 9, ASL Airlines Ireland will provide ZeroAvia with a retired ATR72 aircraft to be used for development work on its two- to five-megawatt ZA2000 powertrain. The company has provisionally agreed to convert 10 in-service aircraft, which it would like to enter commercial service by 2026.

“It is critical for ASL that we take immediate steps to reduce our carbon footprint, and ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric powertrain will allow us to operate cost-effective regional freight services using existing aircraft that are now powered by traditional turbofans,” said ASL Aviation CEO Dave Andrew. “ZeroAvia’s early flight test successes are promising, and we are also excited by the extensive research and development they have put into the green hydrogen production and the refueling ecosystem needed to support air operations.”

As part of its work under the UK government-backed HyFlyer II program, ZeroAvia is developing a Hydrogen Airport Refuelling Ecosystem in partnership with the European Marine Energy Centre, which produces green hydrogen using wind and tidal energy at its base in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. ZeroAvia recently received further government funding from the Department for Transport’s Zero Emission Flight Infrastructure project to explore how liquid hydrogen refueling might be conducted at airports.

Rival hydrogen propulsion system developer Universal Hydrogen is also working on plans to convert ATR72 aircraft, as well as Dash 8 twin turboprops. The company recently raised an additional $62 million to fund its efforts to bring retrofitted aircraft into commercial service by 2025, and it expects to start test flights with a 40-seat ATR42 prototype in 2022.

Also this week, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ZeroAvia. It will support efforts to gain a supplemental type certificate (STC) to convert the 19-seat Dornier 228 twin turboprop to hydrogen propulsion.

The Bangalore-based group has been manufacturing the Do 228 under license since 1983 for operators, including the Indian military, and other export customers. It now intends to convert existing airframes under the STC and to fit ZeroAvia’s 600-kW powertrain to new-build versions of the aircraft, which is expected to have a range of up to around 575 miles.

Over four decades, some 270 Do 228 aircraft have been produced, and an estimated 242 remain in service. Under its agreement with the original airframer, Dornier of Germany, HAL produced main subassemblies and over 150 aircraft.

“HAL is committed to contributing to the protection and better development of the environment,” said group chairman and managing director Shri Madhavan. “The MoU with ZeroAvia has the potential to pave the way for zero-emission regional connectivity. We are looking forward to steering and supporting sustainable and environmentally friendly aviation in India and the world.”

This story was updated to include details about Rose Cay's plans to acquire and convert aircraft to hydrogen propulsion for the airliner leasing market.