It was announced on Friday April 21st that a new Heads of Terms agreement has been signed between Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the iconic Islander aircraft, and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS), pioneers in hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion technology.

What Does This Mean For Britten-Norman & Cranfield Aerospace Solutions?

The agreement signals their intention to merge, thereby creating the world’s first fully integrated, zero-emissions sub-regional aircraft. With 2026 being set as a target date for entry into service, the merger is due to complete in mid-2023, subject to final due diligence. The agreement is believed to be an industry first in the targeting of zero-emissions operations.

As a valued CAeS advanced engineering and manufacturing service-provider, Airframe Designs Ltd (AFD) has already been involved in CAeS’ hydrogen fuel cell technology through the design and analysis of a test rig for the Project Fresson power plant. Britten-Norman and CAeS have been collaborating on Project Fresson for over 2 years, after it was set up to develop the technologies required to enable the hydrogen propulsion system for the Islander. The project has been backed by the UK Government, via the UK Aerospace Technology Institute, and has secured over £14 million in private funding from global investors.

Air travel currently accounts for 2.5% of global emissions and is projected to grow alongside increased aviation use. It is forecasted that aviation will be responsible for 39% of total carbon emissions by 2050 in the UK alone.

The completed merger of the two companies will target the growing demand from airlines and operators for an OEM-supported aircraft that meets zero-emissions operations. The route to certification and a passenger-carrying service in 2026 is now clear, through the combination of proven Britten-Norman aircraft technology and CAeS’s pioneering development of a hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion system.

The Islander, being a nine-seat regional aircraft, is widely used by operators around the world for inter-island services and short hop operations. However, the new company’s ambitions extend well beyond the short hop market, with the intention to design and manufacture new ‘clean sheet’ aircraft with up to 100 seats powered using zero carbon technology.

Jerrod Hartley, CEO of Airframe Designs, believes this merger will create wider engineering and manufacturing opportunities for Airframe Designs, and is excited about the creation of a larger UK aerospace entity that is focused on green technology and addressing the needs of the industry to meet the IATA goal of net zero carbon by 2050.

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Cranfield Aerospace secures first customer for Islander hydrogen conversion. Credit: Cranfield Aerospace Solutions