United Airlines to Buy as Many as 100 Hydrogen-Powered Engines From ZeroAvia

Pledge comes as part of $35 million in investment funding acquired by manufacturer.

United Airlines says it’s the largest airline to commit to hydrogen-electric aviation. Courtesy: ZeroAvia

Hydrogen-electric aircraft developer ZeroAvia has secured $35 million in new investment funding from new investors, including United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL).

Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK) is another new investor.

The pair join a previous class of prominent ventures, such as Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund (NASDAQ: AMZN), AP Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Summa Equity, and Shell Ventures (NYSE: RDS.A)

To date, the company says it has raised $115 million to support its operations and development efforts.

In a statement Monday, ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov said this new funding would help his company accelerate delivery of engines for the company’s larger aircraft, especially as ZeroAvia goes into ground and flight testing in the weeks to come.

ZeroAvia is initially targeting 500-mile range, 10-to-20-seat aircraft that can be used across all commercial market segments. The company suggested that these funds raised will allow it to begin working toward the 40-to-80-seat aircraft segment, first for turboprops in 2026, and then regional jets by 2028.

United's Investment

Though the equity portion of the deal was not disclosed, United Airlines plans to buy as many as 100 ZA2000-RJ engines from ZeroAvia. 

“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front of this important emerging technology.”

Scott Kirby, CEO, United Airlines

The airline would retrofit to its United Express partner regional aircraft, such as the Bombardier CRJ-550, for use by 2028. 

The deal comes through the United investment arm, United Airline Ventures. The conditional agreement allows the airline to purchase 50 ZA200RJ engines upfront, and option another 50 later, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft.

“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front of this important emerging technology,” United’s CEO Scott Kirby said

So far, the only United Express partner that operates the CRJ-550 and who would be the possible launch partner is GoJet. In 2019, GoJet announced a 10-year partnership with United to fly regional routes with the CRJ550, then followed that in 2020 with a fleet expansion announcement to say that it would operate as much as 54 CRJ-550s for United.

ZeroAvia’s Active 2021

Despite reports this year of technical challenges, ZeroAvia appears to be having a hot streak. Since October, the startup has announced new strategic partnerships with Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK), Rose Cay, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, ASL Aviation Holdings, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Regional Jet division, and Rotterdam the Hague Airport.
In fact, amid 2050 net-zero emission goals, investors are doubling down. In March, it was announced that a consortium of initial investors including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures matched their Series A funding of $24.3 million from December 2020.

Michael Wildes holds a master’s degree in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, and a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Previously, he worked at the university’s flight department as a Flight Check Airman, Assistant Training Manager, and Quality Assurance Mentor. He holds MEI, CFI & CFII ratings. Follow Michael on Twitter @Captainwildes.

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