Two local green aviation companies last week announced they had received substantial investments.
Surf Air Mobility Corp. and Universal Hydrogen Co. – both headquartered near Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Hawthorne – are taking different paths to reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from aircraft.
Surf Air, which operates a subscription-based commuter air service, is developing hybrid-electric and fully electric power trains. The first category of aircraft the company is looking to convert to hybrid-electric and then fully electric power trains is the Cessna Grand Caravan, which generally has nine passenger seats.
Universal Hydrogen is developing hydrogen fuel cell conversion kits and fuel modules that can be loaded onto aircraft to replace conventional engines. Either three or four modules would be required to power a single flight of up to 500 miles, depending on the specific type of aircraft. Initially, the company is targeting regional service prop-jet planes that seat as many as 60 people.
On Oct.10, Universal Hydrogen announced that Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc. agreed to make an equity investment of an unspecified amount to help the company further develop and scale up its hydrogen fuel-module network.
“This technology has the potential to be a game-changer on the industry’s path to zero-emission flight,” Derek Kerr, American’s chief financial officer, said in the announcement. “Our investment in Universal Hydrogen represents a vote of confidence for green hydrogen as a key element of a sustainable future for our industry.”
American joins three other major named investors in Universal Hydrogen: Airbus Ventures, a subsidiary of Leiden, Netherlands-based Airbus S.E., GE Aviation, a subsidiary of Boston-based General Electric Co. and Toyota Ventures, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Toyota Motor Corp.
“Together with our investors, we are putting together the end-to-end value chain to make hydrogen aviation a near-term commercial reality,” Paul Eremenko, co-founder and chief executive of Universal Hydrogen, said in the announcement. “This move by American is a strong signal that customers want a true zero-emissions solution for passenger aviation and are willing to back tangible, pragmatic steps to get there quickly.”
Universal Hydrogen is aiming to start deliveries of its hydrogen fuel modules for regional aircraft in 2025, with plans to expand services to larger, single-aisle aircraft by the mid-2030s.
Surf Air also has set 2025 as its first key deployment milestone to start converting small regional service aircraft to hybrid-electric or fully electric aircraft power trains. The company hopes by that year to obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification for its technology.
On Oct. 11, Surf Air announced that Miami-based Jetstream Aviation Capital, the largest global aircraft lessor focused exclusively on commercially operated turboprop regional aircraft and engines, had agreed to finance up to $450 million through an operating lease and sale structure. Jetstream’s investment will help fund the growth of Surf Air’s fleet of converted turbo-prop aircraft.
Jetstream also agreed to buy as many as 250 hybrid-electric and fully electric power trains over the next five years.
“We believe the customized aircraft leasing structure from Jetstream will provide us a capital-efficient way to more rapidly expand our operations at the scale necessary for a future when electrified aircraft unlock the latent demand for convenient, affordable regional travel on new routes across the U.S.,” Sudhin Shahani, chief executive and founder of Surf Air Mobility, said in the announcement.
The investment comes at a critical juncture for Surf Air. Since the pandemic began, the air service has had to grapple with the loss of much of its core market: shuttling business executives between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Surf Air pivoted to the vacation getaway market.
In May, the company agreed to acquire Palm Beach, Florida-based commuter air carrier Southern Airways Corp., which operates two commuter airlines: Southern Airways Express and Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii.
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