American Airlines has made a strategic equity investment in Universal Hydrogen, the US-based company that is developing a hydrogen-capsule system for commercial aviation. American hasn’t disclosed the value of the investment, which, it says, fits its strategy to get to net zero emissions in 2050. American Airlines invests in Universal Hydrogen.

American says in a media statement that its investment meets a double target: not only is the airline committed to the hydrogen-electric capsule technology, but also to developing the infrastructure for hydrogen distribution logistics. American Airlines claims to be the first US airline to support both initiatives. Our investment in Universal Hydrogen represents a vote of confidence for green hydrogen as a key element of a sustainable future for our industry,” says Derek Kerr, American’s Chief Financial Officer in a media statement. In August, American said that it, like United Airlines, will invest in ZeroAvia which is also developing a hydrogen-electric powertrain. 

Universal Hydrogen was established in 2020. Led by CEO Paul Eremko, its strategic advisory board includes some familiar names from the aerospace industry like Tom Enders (ex-EADS/Airbus) and Patrick de Castelbajac (ex-ATR). JetBlue Ventures has also invested in Universal Hydrogen, as have companies like Airbus Ventures, Toyota Ventures, General Electric, Tencent, Mitsubishi HC Capital, Fortescue Future Industries, and nine others.

Its concept uses hydrogen that is stored in capsules that can be transported like normal cargo. The capsules are fitted in the aft section of an airliner and connected to the hydrogen-electric system. The hydrogen is used in fuel cells, which produce electricity that drives two MagniX electric motors that replace conventional turboprop engines.

No aircraft types identified

American hasn’t said on which aircraft types it plans to introduce the Universal Hydrogen hydrogen capsule technology. The American Eagle fleet no longer includes the ATR 72 and De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300/400 aircraft, on which Universal plans to certify the system in 2025. The Eagle fleet includes the Embraer E1 and Mitsubishi CRJ. In August, American said it would not just invest in ZeroAvia but also announced an MoU for up to 100 hydrogen-electric motors for the CRJ fleet. ZeroAvia is working on its own hydrogen-electric fuel cell project for the CRJ with Mitsubishi and has commitments from United Airlines, while Alaska Airlines wants the ZeroAvia concept on its Dash 8-400.

Universal Hydrogen has clinched a fair number of deals. In September, Denmark’s DAT announced an agreement to introduce the capsule technology on its ATR 72-600s in 2025. In July, Avmax Aircraft Leasing from Canada placed a firm order for the conversion of twenty Dash 8-300s and ATR 72-600s. In June, US airline Connect Airlines said it placed a firm order for the conversion of 75 ATRs, the biggest order for Universal to date.

Other announcements include that of lessor ACIA Aero Leasing at the 2021 Dubai Airshow for a Letter of Intent for the conversion of up to thirty ATR 72s. Earlier, Universal signed contracts with ASL Aviation Services, Icelandair, and Air Nostrum.

At a later stage this decade or in the early 2030s, the modular system could be introduced on converted narrowbodies like the Boeing 757 and Airbus A321, which offer more space for the capsules in their longer fuselages. 

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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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