A new airliner concept that could lead to sustainable and cost-effective air mobility in Europe is being proposed by Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel. The company is developing a new 19-seater hydrogen-powered regional aircraft that it aims to enter into service by 2030. Called the Miniliner, the airplane is being developed with support from the EU-funded UNIFIER19 project, for which Pipistrel – the project coordinator – has joined forces with academic partners Polytechnic University of Milan and Delft University of Technology. UNIFIER19’s aim is to offer a service that connects smaller airports to each other and with major hubs by making good use of Europe’s underused small airport network. The zero-emission aircraft is expected to substantially reduce operating costs compared to current aircraft in the 20-seater size class, and offer clean, quiet and fast transportation. “Current aircraft in this segment rely on 40-year-old designs, powered by fuel-burning, noisy and maintenance-intensive turboprop engines,” Pipistrel states on its website. It goes on to say: “Pipistrel’s Miniliners allow for a Direct Operating Cost (DOC) reduction of 30 to 40% on a per-seat metric relative to today’s solutions, even with the introduction of new zero-emission propulsion, real-time emissions monitoring and advanced flight control automation technologies.”
Increasing regional connectivity
The Miniliner will increase connectivity to underserved locations by carrying out short point-to-point flights between small cities within a 200 to 1 000 km range. In addition to these intercity services, it will also perform microfeeder services that will provide transportation between small airports and major hubs. Additionally, the aircraft will be capable of landing and taking off from runways shorter than 1 km, including grass airstrips at small aerodromes. The intercity and microfeeder services play an important role in the project team’s vision of a more connected European transportation network achieved through improved and sustainable regional air travel.
The project team is currently evaluating three different aircraft designs. The engine configuration, tail shape and inclusion, or not, of canards (small winglike projections forward of the main wing) varies in each design, but the composite wing and fuselage remains the same. According to Pipistrel, advanced hydrogen-based propulsion systems meet “the non-negotiable requirements of zero-emission, quiet and safe operations.” Hydrogen fuel cells will be enough to power most departures, with batteries provided to boost short-field performance (for departures from runways as short as 800 m), reports an article posted on the ‘FlightGlobal’ website. This, the article states, “will allow access to 80% of Europe’s airports.” The Miniliner will be able to fly for approximately 1 852 km on a single tank of liquid hydrogen. “It will be able to fly three return missions before you need to replenish the hydrogen fuel,” notes Pipistrel Chief Technical Officer Tine Tomažič, in the same article. With this type of airplane, the UNIFIER19 (Community Friendly Miniliner) project aims to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and noise emissions by at least 20 % compared to the 19-seater aircraft that entered into service in 2014. The project team vision is to offer Europeans a mobility experience that will be as easy to use as a bus. For more information, please see: UNIFIER19 project website
UNIFIER19, aircraft, hydrogen, zero-emission, transportation, regional