Skytrans, a regional airline based in Cairns, Australia, has announced that it will purchase and operate up to five of startup Stralis’ new hydrogen fuell-cell powered aircraft, with initial operations expected to begin in 2026.
Above: Rendering of a Beechcraft B1900D-HE retrofitted with Stralis’ hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion
For its initial aircraft, Stralis will retrofit hydrogen-electric propulsion systems into conventional Beechcraft 1900D airplanes, with eventual ‘clean-sheet’ aircraft to follow. By using this retrofit design, Stralis expects its first hydrogen fuel-cell airplanes to begin test flights in 2025 with certification and entry to operations by 2026.
The retrofitted B1900D-HE will carry up to 15 passengers, while later clean-sheet aircraft from Stralis will seat up to 45. Fuel-cell powered B1900D-HEs will have a range of up to 800km per flight, which suits many of Skytrans’ current routes.
Skytrans currently owns and operates five Havilland DHC-8-100s, some of which would be augmented or replaced with the new hydrogen fuel-cell aircraft from Stralis. In the partnership with Stralis, Skytrans has ordered three fuel-cell powered B1900D-HE’s, with options for another two.
With the addition of these new aircraft as well as more potential hydrogen aircraft in the future, Skytrans hopes to reach completely net-zero emissions by 2050.
Above: A Havilland DHC-8-100 aircraft currently operated by Skytrans
Stralis, also based in Australia, hopes to use momentum generated by sales of its retrofitted B1900D-HE aircraft to create and sell its own clean-sheet airframes: The SA-1, a hydrogen fuel-cell turboprop aircraft with room for 45 passengers and a range of 3,000 kilometers, and the SA-2, a hydrogen fuel-cell jet with room for up to 90 passengers and ranges over 7,000 kilometers. Stralis hopes to begin operations of the SA-1 by 2030, and of the SA-2 by 2035.
Said Stralis’ Chief Technology office Stuart Johnstone: “As green hydrogen drops in price, it will become price competitive with fossil fuels within the next five years and we want to be well positioned to capitalise on the opportunities from this technology. When the B1900D-HE enters service in 2026, it will have comparable operating costs to conventional 19 seat turboprop aircraft, and 25 per cent less operating costs by 2035.”
CEO of Skytrans Alan Milne stated: “We are proud to be leading the nation in developing its hydrogen industry and we want to play a leading role in showing that this technology can work in aviation. The impacts of climate change are concerning for local communities and that’s why we are playing a major role in reducing the environmental impact of aviation.”
Above: A Beechcraft 1900D operated by the Swiss Air Force.
Why it’s important: Companies like Skytrans and Stralis are starting to push the boundaries on new types of propulsion for conventional regional aircraft and routes. By retro-fitting Beechcraft 1900D aircraft rather than initially creating entirely new aircraft, Stralis should achieve a much quicker route to certification and launch of operations for its first aircraft. Once fuel-cell aircraft by Stralis are already in operation by companies like Skytrans, the market adoption of fuel-cell and electric propulsion aircraft should accelerate greatly, giving both Stralis and other companies the opportunity to create new kinds of aircraft and also put more hydrogen fuel-cell aircraft into operation.
Source // AuManufacturing, Simple Flying, Stralis, Skytrans
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