Slovenian-aerospace company Pipistrel is to develop a 20-seat hydrogen-fuelled regional aircraft with the aim of it entering commercial service before the end of this decade.
The Miniliner will have a range of up to 1000km (620 miles) and be capable of using runways shorter than 1km (0.6 miles), including grass strips at small aerodromes. Pipistrel, which is known for its range of all-electric trainer aircraft and is to launch a range of unmanned drones in the next two years said it aims for the aircraft to disrupt regional aerial mobility and to serve on feeder routes into larger airports.
Engineers at Pipistrel are designing and developing the aircraft in partnership with Delft University in Holland and Milano Politecnico, Italy as part of the EU-funded UNIFIER19 project. The company has also led the development of larger zero-emission aircraft recently through another EU-funded project called MAHEPA.
Pipistrel said that while several powertrain solutions are being evaluated for the Miniliner, it viewed advanced hydrogen-based propulsion systems answer the non-negotiable requirements of zero-emission, quiet and safe operations.“Current aircraft in this segment rely on 40-year-old designs, powered by fuel-burning, noisy and maintenance-intensive turboprop engines,” it said.
“Pipistrel’s Miniliners will allow for a Direct Operating Cost reduction of 30 to 40% on a per-seat metric relative to today’s solutions, even with the introduction of new zero-emission propulsion, real-time emissions monitoring and advanced flight control automation technologies.”
It added that hydrogen as a fuel did not require large infrastructural investments is engaging with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and Single European Sky ATM Research organisations on the Miniliner project.
Founder and general manager of Pipistrel, Ico Boscarol, has previously said that hydrogen will play a role in aviation’s future in this Aerospace Testing International article published last year on the resurgence of hydrogen aircraft development projects.