Numerous airlines made strides towards reducing carbon emissions and investing in next generation air transportation technologies in 2021. Several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, GOL, and Japan Airlines have pre-ordered electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles from the company Vertical Aerospace.
Others, including Icelandair, United Airlines and JetBlue have entered partnerships dedicated to enabling and increasing the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
Many of these companies have also set ambitious goals for reducing their carbon footprints—in particular, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Widerøe. Here, Avionics International takes a look back at 10 airlines that invested in electric, hydrogen-powered, hybrid and other next generation Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)-driven technologies in 2021.
United Airlines made several different electric and hydrogen-focused aircraft development-related investments and commitments throughout 2021.
United Airlines, which invested in electric aircraft startup Heart Aerospace in July, made an announcement in December about a new investment in ZeroAvia, the hydrogen-electric aircraft engine company. The agreement brings the total investment in ZeroAvia up to $115 million, and it also includes a provision for United to purchase up to 100 of ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric engines.
This recent investment marks another step towards achieving United Airlines’ goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 100% by the year 2050 without depending on traditional carbon offsets. United also became one of the first major international carriers to announce a future eVTOL purchase investment agreement in 2021 with Archer Aviation—the California-based startup that recently completed its first eVTOL hover flight test.
ZeroAvia announced a development collaboration with Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, for a hydrogen-electric powertrain capable of flying 76-seat regional aircraft in excess of 500 NM in October 2021.
Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, also announced a partnership with ZeroAvia in 2021. In October, the companies agreed to collaborate in the development of a hydrogen-electric powertrain to fly a 76-seat regional aircraft.
Earlier this year, Alaska Airlines committed to a five-step plan for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The company also formed Alaska Star Ventures LLC in October, which serves to advance enabling technologies for electric aircraft.
Brazilian carrier GOL committed to a future eVTOL fleet purchase agreement with aircraft leasing company Avolon in September.
GOL, Brazil’s largest domestic airline, shared plans in September to launch an electric air taxi network after acquiring 250 of Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 aircraft from Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon. The network, which will operate in Sao Paulo, is planned for a mid-2025 launch date once the VA-X4 eVTOL achieves civil aviation certification.
Japan Airlines (JAL)
Japan Airlines (JAL) has a new partnership agreement with Avolon to purchase up to 50 VA-X4 eVTOLs in the future. (Avolon)
Japan Airlines acquired the rights to purchase up to 50 of Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft in a recent partnership with Avolon. Signed in October, the agreement will identify partnerships, customers, infrastructure requirements, and certification in order to begin commercial eVTOL operations in Japan by 2025. The airline will collaborate with both Avolon and Vertical to assist in achieving certification for the VA-X4.
Rolls-Royce, Tecnman, and Widerøe are partnering to launch an all-electric passenger-carrying aircraft for the commuter aircraft market in Scandinavia. (Rolls-Royce)
In March, a partnership was announced between Norwegian airline Widerøe, Rolls-Royce, and Tecnam to launch a fully-electric passenger aircraft for the Scandinavian commuter aircraft market.
Norway has made a commitment to ensure that all domestic flights are zero-emission by the year 2040. Widerøe Zero, the company’s new air mobility business incubator division, entered into a new partnership with Embraer’s Eve Urban Air Mobility in November to develop an eVTOL concept of operations and explore possible applications for the aircraft.
Icelandair, aiming to fully decarbonize its domestic network, signed an LOI with Universal Hydrogen in July to develop green hydrogen for fueling aircraft. Universal Hydrogen is a California-based startup developing a fuel distribution system in addition to an aftermarket hydrogen conversion kit, which could be utilized in Icelandair’s fleet of De Havilland Canada DHC-8-200 aircraft.
The LOI may expand in the future to include partnering in coordination with Icelandic hydrogen producers and airports. Icelandair has also previously signed an LOI on a project with Heart Aerospace to accelerate decarbonization in regional air travel.
Connect Airlines, the Boston-based Part 135 charter division of Waltzing Matilda Aviation, is purchasing Q400 hydrogen conversion kits from Universal Hydrogen.
On Dec. 8, Connect Airlines—the Boston-based charter airline launched by Waltzing Matilda Aviation last year—signed an LOI to purchase 24 of Universal Hydrogen's green hydrogen conversion kits. The order includes 12 total Dash 8-300 kits and purchase rights for 12 additional kits of other aircraft types.
The conversion kits consist of a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain compatible with Universal Hydrogen’s modular capsule technology. For these aircraft, Universal Hydrogen targets installation of its conversion kits by 2025 and will subsequently supply green hydrogen fuel to the Connect Airlines fleet under a long-term agreement.
(Photo: Virgin Atlantic)
Virgin Atlantic released a list in October describing the airline’s goals towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company hopes to achieve a 15% net reduction in total CO2 emissions by 2030 through improvements to operational efficiency, as well as sourcing 10% of fuel from SAF.
It also set a goal to achieve a 40% net reduction in total CO2 emissions by 2040. Virgin Atlantic also has pre-order options for Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 eVTOL.
(Photo: JetBlue Airways)
In September, JetBlue Airways entered into a $1 billion agreement with bioenergy developer SG Preston to supply commercial flights with SAF at New York airports. Just two months earlier, JetBlue Airways announced a partnership with Joby Aviation and Signature Flight Support to create a system of aviation credits for the use of electric and hydrogen propulsion technologies.
This system enables players in the aviation industry to quickly adopt sustainable energy sources and will accelerate the commercialization of electric and hydrogen technologies. JetBlue’s target date for achieving net-zero carbon emissions is 2040. The airline also signed an agreement this year to purchase blended SAF to supply 5% of its fuel needs at LAX.
Republic Airways, a regional carrier that operates flights for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United, a Memorandum of Understanding and Letter of Intent to purchase up to 200 of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft.
In a Dec. 21 press announcement, Embraer's Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions and Republic Airways Holdings Inc., announced the signing of an LOI to purchase up to 200 of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft. The strategic relationship will also focus on developing eVTOL infrastructure throughout the Central and East Coast markets of the United States, with an initial focus on the Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. markets.