Transportation

Tech company creating the future of aviation

ZeroAvia makes Hollister Airport one of its testing grounds for clean aircraft engines.
The Dornier 228 aircraft. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The Dornier 228 aircraft. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Interior of the Dornier 228 aircraft. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Interior of the Dornier 228 aircraft. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The 15-ton HyperTruck. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The 15-ton HyperTruck. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include a video May 9

With its purchase of a 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft, technology developer ZeroAvia is poised to turn its facility at the Hollister Municipal Airport into a hub of the worldwide effort to develop zero-emission aircraft engines. 

At the unveiling of the newly acquired plane on May 7, Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia’s founder, said Hollister Airport was chosen to be one of his company’s three research facilities because of a perfect combination of factors. 

“It is the best place in a 150-mile radius of San Francisco as far as weather,” he said. “This airport has the best runway configuration with multiple emergency landing points, which makes it great for testing. It is also outside of major air traffic congestion but near areas like San Jose and Monterey that we can draw talent from.”

Miftakhov comes to the project with impressive credentials. He has degrees in physics from both Princeton University and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and has served as a nuclear researcher at Stanford Linear Accelerator. His previous company, eMotorWerks, developed JuiceBox, a system for rapidly and efficiently charging electric cars.

A pilot himself, Miftakhov said that he considered aviation to be the next frontier for sustainable energy when he founded the company in 2017.

“Four years ago, people were only talking about offsets,” he said. “You would buy some virtual forest in the Amazon, and by the way, they are cutting the forests down. It was basically greenwashing and we wanted to do something real. I had the experience through my previous company to find a solution and I knew I could do it.”

The Dornier will be stripped of its conventional jet-fueled engines, which will be replaced by renewable hydrogen-electric powertrains. By 2026, ZeroAvia plans the resulting aircraft to be able to travel 300-500 nautical miles nonstop, the equivalent of flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles. According to the current development timeline, by 2030 the system will support a 200-seat plane, equal in size to a Boeing 737, the most commonly used passenger plane in the world.

According to Miftakhov, aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gasses; its share of climate impact is expected to reach between 25% and 50% by 2050. The powertrains used in the planes derive their energy from an electrical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and the resulting exhaust consists only of water.

The energy to generate the hydrogen needed to power the plane’s engine will come from a solar array that will be constructed at the airport. ZeroAvia is working with Shell Oil to plan ways to fuel the planes on a larger scale using the same process. Other backers of the project include Amazon, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, along with grants from the British government.  

The ribbon-cutting event included a demonstration of a 15-ton HyperTruck, which is a mobile ground testing platform equipped with an engine and propeller. It was attended by about 45 invited guests including Hollister City Councilmember Rick Perez, who was impressed by what he saw.

“I totally support this,” he said. “I always thought of the Hollister airport as a jewel on the crown of Hollister. ZeroAvia is good for our community, but it is bigger than that. This company is global and it is changing aviation as we know it. It is awesome to see Hollister be this forward-thinking.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.