The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

American Airlines Places Equity Investment in Universal Hydrogen

American Airlines has made an equity investment in Universal Hydrogen, the California-based company building a green hydrogen distribution and logistics network for aviation. The October 10 announcement follows an agreement in August under which the carrier provisionally agreed with Universal's competitor ZeroAvia to convert up to 100 regional jets with its hydrogen propulsion system.

Universal Hydrogen’s business plan involves a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain that it will use to convert regional airliners such as the de Havilland Dash 8 and ATR 72 twin turboprops. Its concept calls for the supply of green hydrogen to airports in capsules fitted directly into a compartment at the rear of the aircraft fuselage, eliminating the need for new fueling infrastructure and speeding fuel-loading operations. The company expects to fly its first hydrogen-powered Dash 8 by the end of this year.

Universal Hydrogen anticipates starting hydrogen deliveries for regional aircraft in 2025, followed by deliveries for larger, single-aisle aircraft, first for auxiliary power in the late-2020s and then as a primary fuel by the mid-2030s. It already has an agreement with U.S. regional carrier Connect Air.

“This technology has the potential to be a game-changer on the industry’s path to zero-emission flight,” said American Airlines chief financial officer Derek Kerr. “As the world’s largest airline, American has a responsibility to exercise leadership in making aviation sustainable. Our investment in Universal Hydrogen represents a vote of confidence for green hydrogen as a key element of a sustainable future for our industry.” 

American joins Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation, Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Ventures, and several major hydrogen producers and aircraft lessors as strategic investors in Universal Hydrogen. It has not disclosed how much it is investing in Universal Hydrogen.

“Together with our investors, we are putting together the end-to-end value chain to make hydrogen aviation a near-term commercial reality,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “This move by American is a strong signal that customers want a true zero-emissions solution for passenger aviation and are willing to back tangible, pragmatic steps to get there quickly.” 

Separately, during July's Farnborough Airshow, American Airlines said it reserved delivery slots and tendered pre-delivery payments for 50 of Vertical Aerospace’s four-passenger VX4 eVTOL aircraft, following a 2021 commitment to order up to 250.