American Airlines signs provisional deal for 100 hydrogen-electric engines

American Airline has announced that it signed a conditional purchase agreement with start-up ZeroAvia for 100 hydrogen-electric engines intended to power regional jet aircraft with zero inflight emissions save for water vapor. In addition, the airline has increased its investment in ZeroAvia. American made its first investment in the start-up in 2022 and has also now participated in the company's Series C financing round.

The engine agreement follows the Memorandum of Understanding the companies announced in 2022. ZeroAvia is developing hydrogen-electric (fuel cell-powered) engines for commercial aircraft, which offer the potential for close to zero inflight emissions. The company is flight testing a prototype for a 20-seat plane and designing an engine for larger aircraft such as the Bombardier CRJ700, which American operates on certain regional routes.

"In signing this purchase agreement and furthering its investment, American is supporting our mission of innovation for clean aircraft propulsion and it is a good signal that ZeroAvia is delivering on our technology roadmap", said ZeroAvia Founder and CEO Val Miftakhov. "The solutions that can serve the largest airlines are within reach, and the clean future of flight is coming." The hydrogen-electric engines use hydrogen in fuel cells to generate electricity, which is then used to power electric motors to turn the aircraft's propellers. The only inflight emission is low-temperature water vapor, and the lower intensity electrical systems have the potential to offer significant cost savings.

"Advancing the transition of commercial aviation to a low-carbon future requires investments in promising technologies, including alternate forms of propulsion", said American's CEO, Robert Isom. "This announcement will help accelerate the development of technologies needed to power our industry and uphold our commitment to make American a sustainable airline so we can continue to deliver for customers for decades to come." The investment and conditional commitment to purchase novel engine technology contributes to the airline's goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In recent years, the carrier says it has undertaken the most extensive fleet renewal effort in the history of commercial aviation, which currently gives it the youngest mainline fleet of any major US network carrier and improves fuel efficiency.

Hydrogen is considered one of the long-term solutions to decarbonising the aviation industry. However, developing engines for commercial planes remains challenging. While once it is used to power aircraft, the in-flight emissions are almost zero, making hydrogen requires a lot of energy, which can either be green or not.

The fuel cells also take up more space, thus reducing the capacity of a plane, and are currently only capable of powering small, regional aircraft. ZeroAvia has submitted its first powertrain for up to 20 seat planes for certification with a target of the end of 2025 and is working on a larger powertrain for 40-80 seat aircraft by 2027. Proving how difficult it is to break through in the sector and the amount of investment required, Universal Hydrogen, another start-up testing hydrogen fuel cells[1] on small aircraft, which was named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies of 2024, has just shut down.

After managing to secure around £100 million of investor capital, company CEO, Mark Cousin, has said it was still not enough to move forward.


  1. ^ testing hydrogen fuel cells (