ZeroAvia Announces New Investment Ahead Of First D228 Flight
FARNBOROUGH—A closed motorway and a severely delayed journey proved insufficient obstacles to prevent ZeroAvia founder and CEO, Val Miftakhov, from hosting his company's Farnborough Airshow press conference. Miftakhov briefed journalists from the front seat of his car as he navigated a lengthy detour through the Hampshire countryside, and had a lot of news to offer updates on.
The company is nearing first flight of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric engine on one of its two Dornier 228 testbed aircraft. Ground tests of the completed system are taking place now at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, England, and the hope is to fly the aircraft within weeks.
"The aircraft in Kemble is fully configured for flight at this point," Miftakhov says. "We're collecting the required ground-testing data ... to satisfy the requirements of the flight-permit application. We expect to complete that within the next number of days, and then submit that data to the CAA [UK Civil Aviation Authority] for the flight permits. As soon as we get flight permits from the CAA we are going to take to the sky."
The company says it has learned from the April 2021 crash of its modified Piper Malibu Mirage, and the recently published report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), Miftakhov says. The AAIB report followed the company's own internal investigation, which was concluded quickly. He says the major insights were more structural and organizational than concerned directly with the hydrogen technology.
"We had the internal reports within a couple of months, and we have implemented a number of initiatives after that," he says. Those include "getting all our aircraft operations onto full Part 145 maintenance schedules, so that all the operations of the company—including the engineering operations—are now done to the level of scrutiny that you would find in places like major manufacturers out there."
These were "great learnings for the company," Miftakhov adds. "I'm not going to go into all the details here, but I would say that, as a result, among all the startups operating in the zero-emissions space, ZeroAvia is probably one of the most mature, in terms of how we address the aircraft operations, aircraft modifications, and flight permits."
Here at Farnborough the company announced $30 million of new investment: existing investor International Airlines Group increased its holding, while British bank Barclays, Saudi Arabian zero-carbon city project NEOM and technology fund AENU become the startup’s latest backers. This brings the company's Series B round total to $68 million, following December investments from partners including United Airlines and Alaska Airlines. The cash will be used to help transition ZeroAvia's technology from gaseous to liquid hydrogen, and to develop its second-generation, 2-5-megawatt powertrain.
ZeroAvia has also confirmed a partnership with PowerCell, the Swedish fuel-cell developer, which will see Powercell establishing a production facility co-located with ZeroAvia's production line in the UK.
"The final decision on where our first manufacturing facility will be located has not been made yet, but PowerCell will colocate with that," Miftakhov says. "We're now in the active search for a location. Kemble, of course, is one of the natural potential locations for us, but we're also looking at a number of others. There's several areas in the country where we have access to the talent and we have great political will to scale operations, to scale manufacturing."
Further announcements are imminent, including one on what will be the launch platform for ZeroAvia's first production powertrain. The three platforms in contention are the 228, the De Havilland Canada Twin Otter, and the Cessna Grand Caravan. A decision has been taken but has not yet been announced.
"I believe we'll be making that announcement within the next few days," Miftakhov says. "The decision definitely has multiple inputs in play, including market sizes, including the types of operators that are flying the aircraft, and the technological complexity of doing things."
Miftakhov notes that support from airframers has been enthusiastic, and discloses that there are three further relationships with airframers signed but not yet made public.