Three companies have signed a letter of intent that cements their commitment to bringing hydrogen-powered flights to the Scilly Isles. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group (ISSG), Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) and UK aircraft manufacturer Britten-Norman have vowed to work together to make the vision a reality.
For many years the ISSG has operated a Britten-Norman Islander through its airline subsidiary, Isles of Scilly Skybus. Skybus provides a year round scheduled service to the Islands from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter airports, and provides a vital link to communities on the Isles of Scilly from Cornwall, where travelling by aircraft remains the most practical form of transportation.
Utilising Britten-Norman's expertise as the original equipment manufacturer for the STOL, short-sector aircraft, CAeS is leading the collaboration, under Project Fresson, to integrate hydrogen fuel cell technology into the Islander. ISSG has sold one of its aircraft to CAeS to be retrofitted, and will further support the project by providing expertise gained from its own operations and its understanding of infrastructure requirements.
The Isles of Scilly attract more than 100,000 visitors a year. The entire archipelago has been defined a protected landscape, and the islands have been designated a conservation area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Heritage Coast and a Special Protection Area. Operation of the hydrogen-electric powered Islander will allow ISSG to help protect the protected landscapes of the Scilly Isles.
The original concept for a zero-carbon aircraft led CAeS and Britten-Norman to consider battery power. It soon became apparent that the impact of weight, charge time and charging infrastructure made a battery-only solution impractical. Moving to a hydrogen-electric fuel cell option provides operators with greater flexibility, higher passenger load and improvements to the bottom line through a potential 50 per cent reduction in powertrain maintenance cost and a 40-50 per cent reduction in variable costs.
Green hydrogen can be produced locally using renewable energy. It can also be stored at an operating base with relative ease and without the need to provide complex charging networks. Turn around times between sectors are similar to those achieved with fossil fuels, providing greater resilience to operations.
ISSG chief executive Stuart Reid says: “This is an exciting development in the project and one of which we are proud to be a part. The letter of intent for hydrogen aircraft really shows our commitment towards a zero-emission aviation industry and to becoming an early adopter of this cutting-edge technology. The Isles of Scilly is a special and extraordinary place and we take our environmental policy very seriously, as well as our responsibility towards meeting the government's objectives of the decarbonisation of transport.”
CAeS CEO Paul Hutton adds: “It is incredibly important for the future of our planet that we deliver emission-free aircraft, and I am delighted to see the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group's commitment to this outcome. I would encourage contact from airlines of all sizes who would like to find out how these aircraft can be part of their future.”
Britten-Norman chief executive William Hynett says: “We wish to help bring hydrogen-electric commercial aircraft to the market at the earliest opportunity so that we can help drive our customers' success in the new age of air transport. In striving for a zero-carbon future, it is essential that solutions are practical, affordable and sustainable and we believe that we are well placed to help achieve these vital goals in a way that will resonate with our global customers, many of whom seek to help protect the outstandingly beautiful places in which they operate.”