First Contenders Revealed In Zero Carbon Transatlantic Challenge

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The first competitors have been announced in the Freedom Flight challenge. The challenge seeks to encourage a zero-carbon aircraft to fly from London to New York and back within 24 hours, with 100+ ‘passengers’ onboard.

Zero Emission, Transatlantic, hydrogen
Three competitors are now in the running to be the first to realize zero-emission transatlantic flight. Photo: Airbus

While the industry’s current primary focus is rightly the health and safety of passengers and crew during the pandemic, sustainably hasn’t been thrown to the back of the pack. Indeed, last week United Airlines revealed that it wants to operate a fleet of electric air taxis by 2026. Meanwhile, Airbus is seeking to turn Paris into a Hydrogen Hub while working on a hydrogen-powered next-generation aircraft.

Freedom Flight competitors

Today, the Freedom Flight challenge revealed that it has so far received three entries for its competition from three different countries. These are ZeroAvia (based in the USA and UK), Okulu Aerospace (based in India), and The ePlane Company (based in India). According to Freedom Flight, others have expressed interest and are expected to formally enter the competition in the coming months.

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The current competitors are looking at hydrogen and electricity as fuel sources to get them across the Atlantic. Given previous aviation industry comments, it seems that those pursuing electricity will have a more challenging time. Industry giant Airbus has very publicly sided with hydrogen as the fuel of the future.

Zero Emission, Transatlantic, hydrogen
Industry giant Airbus is very publicly backing Hydrogen over Airbus. Photo: Airbus

At the 2019 Paris Air Show, Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer, Grazia Vittadini, commented,

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“Assuming for a moment that we’d be able to rely on batteries 30 times as energy-dense as [the current standard], an A320 would be able to fly with half of its payload for one-fifth of its current range, 500 nautical miles max. So, assuming a battery which today does not exist … It doesn’t work, purely electrical will not work.”

What is the Freedom Flight Prize?

Aviators Alcock and Brown won a £10,000 prize (worth £1.18 million/$1.65 million today, according to the Bank of England) for completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. The Freedom Flight Prize seeks to offer a modern-day equivalent to this historic achievement. Currently, there is no firm prize amount for completing the challenge, but the organizers hope to provide more than £5 million for being the first to achieve the feat.

Zero Emission, Transatlantic, hydrogen
The prize is intended to be a modern equivalent to that won by Alcock and Brown for the first non-stop transatlantic crossing. Photo: Getty Images

The successful aircraft will create no CO2 emissions during its flight. It will need to complete a round trip from London to New York (or equivalent) in 24 hours, with each leg taking under ten hours and operating non-stop.

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The aircraft will need to meet aviation and safety requirements to allow the test flight to go ahead. However, no passengers will be on the flight. Instead, it will be required to carry a mass equivalent to 100 passengers, each weighing 90kg (nine tonnes).

This isn’t the first such prize to be announced. In 2018, Heathrow Airport revealed that it would waive landing fees for a year for the first electric-hybrid aircraft in commercial production. Assuming an A320 sized aircraft landed at the airport three times a day, this would be worth around £1,000,000 ($1.4 million).

When do you think an aircraft will complete the challenge? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!

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