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The FAA has accepted Universal Hydrogen’s application for a supplemental type certificate to convert ATR 72 regional airliners to use its fuel cell electric propulsion system. The U.S. air safety regulator this week issued the California-based start-up a G-1 issue paper, which marks the first step to establishing the criteria for certifying the system, which will be fueled by liquid hydrogen delivered to aircraft in pre-filled modules.

Earlier this year, Universal Hydrogen achieved a first flight with a hydrogen-powered Dash 8 aircraft. It is now starting a program of ground and flight tests to generate the data it will need to demonstrate compliance with requirements that the FAA is expected to confirm in the coming months.

“For something as novel as hydrogen-powered airplanes, establishing the certification basis is a critically important milestone in the certification process,” said former FAA acting deputy administrator Carl Burleson, who is now an adviser to the company. “This is the culmination of two years of effort between Universal Hydrogen and the FAA on this trailblazing project, which represents a key part of the solution set to help address the aviation industry’s commitment to a zero-carbon future.”

Universal Hydrogen has been developing hydrogen powertrain conversion kits for legacy aircraft since 2020 and aims to have its first products certified and in service by 2025, starting with a conversion kit for the 72-passenger ATR 72-600 regional airliner and then the Dash 8. The megawatt-class powertrain for the 40-passenger Dash 8 is essentially the same as what Universal Hydrogen is developing for the ATR 72-600. 

The company plans to start delivering conversion kits for auxiliary power in larger, single-aisle aircraft in the late-2020s and then as a primary fuel by the mid-2030s. It is also developing a modular hydrogen delivery system to reduce the need for costly new hydrogen infrastructure at airports that will support hydrogen-powered aviation. 

Universal Hydrogen has already secured a conditional preorder for 75 converted ATR 72-600s from Massachusetts-based regional carrier Connect Airlines. In July, Canadian aviation company Avmax Aircraft Leasing agreed to convert 20 of its regional aircraft to hydrogen power using one or both of Universal Hydrogen’s powertrains. The company is also working with Deutsche Aircraft in Germany to evaluate the possibility of installing its modular hydrogen capsules in the Dornier 328 regional airliner. Investors include American Airlines, Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation, Toyota Ventures, and JetBlue Ventures.

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