Airbus Summit 2021: Pointing the way to the future of climate-neutral flying
Technological innovations and alternative drives are going to make climate-neutral flying a reality by 2035. Sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen technology, electric drives and improved air traffic management save CO2 emissions. This makes flying more efficient and sustainable. The Airbus Summit 2021 showed what the path to the future of climate-neutral flying will look like.
Climate neutrality is the central goal for aviation. Therefore, the aviation industry is developing future-oriented, sustainable technologies at full speed. By 2035, the first CO2-emission free aircraft is planned to be in operation. The Airbus Summit 2021 showed what the path to climate-neutral flying will look like: with alternative fuels, hydrogen technology, electric drives and improved air traffic management the energy transition in the sky will become reality.
Alternative fuels usher in the energy transition
Sustainable aviation fuels play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions. That is why all modern Airbus aircraft are already approved for blending with up to 50% sustainable aviation fuels. By 2030, this will be up to 100%. At the same time, the production of sustainable aviation fuels must be increased significantly. This lowers the price and thus enables the transition to alternative fuels in civil aviation. Governments and energy suppliers take on a special role here. On short and medium-haul routes, however, sustainable aviation fuels are only an interim solution. It is hydrogen technology that makes CO2-emission free short- and medium-haul flights possible in the long run.
Experts discuss the future of climate-neutral flying at the Airbus Summit 2021.
The ambition was underlined at the Airbus Summit
The first hydrogen aircraft are expected to fly by 2035. These will be used primarily on short and medium-haul flights. As part of the ZEROe initiative, Airbus is working on three prototypes: the Turbofan, Turboprop and Blended-Wing Body. The development of cyrogenic tanks for liquid hydrogen poses a particular challenge. The Zero-Emission Development Centres in Nantes and Bremen are therefore conducting research into the design of the tanks and their integration into the new aircraft. Airbus is working with Air Liquide and VINCI Airports to promote the use of hydrogen at airports and to build the European airport network for future hydrogen aircraft. The first hydrogen infrastructure will be operational at Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport in 2023. This is how the energy transition in the sky succeeds.
Electric drives redefine urban mobility
Especially in urban centres, low-emission, efficient transport will become even more important in the future. The CityAirbus NextGen provides answers to the question of how urban mobility can be reconciled with ecological and social factors. The prototype of an all-electric vertical take-off aircraft presented at the Airbus Summit can carry up to four people within an 80km radius - and do so extremely quietly and without producing emissions during flight. Urban air transport is becoming a pioneer for climate-neutral flying.
Air traffic management already reduces emissions
Air traffic management often plays a subordinate role in discussions about climate-neutral flying. Yet improvements in this area can drastically reduce CO2 emissions already today. Various measures such as a continuous climb and descent operation that makes circling in holding patterns unnecessary, flight path optimisations in the form of direct flight paths between departure and arrival points, as well as flying at certain altitudes and taxiing on the runway with only one engine can lead to CO2 savings of up to 10%. This was demonstrated by the Airbus A320neo flight from Paris to the Airbus Summit in Toulouse. It marks the beginning of a series of test flights that will take place between 2021 and 2022 as part of the Single European Sky research project "Albatross". The aim is to gain insights into improved air traffic management that can reduce emissions.
Status: Oct 2021
City-Airbus: A milestone for the future of electric flying
Just recently, the CityAirbus took off for its first public test flight in Manching. This is an important step for the all-electric VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft and substantially advances unmanned and electric flying. The CityAirbus uses technology made in Germany and serves as a testing ground for numerous new technologies for climate-neutral flying. Manching will play a key role for these many developments.
Aviation is on the cusp of becoming climate-neutral and numerous technologies are taking off for the first time. With the public test flight of the CityAirbus, fully electric, zero-emission and unmanned flying is coming within reach. In addition, the first model of the CityAirbus was testing numerous new technologies, in operation for the very first time. These tests will serve as important pillars for the development of all-electric flying.
A model for the mobility of the future
The CityAirbus is the only aircraft in its class that flies in its original size as a fully electric VTOL aircraft. The rotorcraft weighs more than two tonnes and is designed for four passengers. This represents the future for Urban Air Mobility and inner-city mobility high-up in the skies. As a climate-neutral means of transport, this model will open new options for transportation in large cities: quick and comfortable air transport for heavily frequented routes.
The CityAirbus is a model for electric flying and urban mobility of the future.
Spill-over effects for the other aircraft models
The CityAirbus shows what future mobility in cities can look like, but also serves as a testing ground for technologies for other configurations. As we pave the way for climate-neutral aviation, the rotorcraft sheds light on the challenges lying ahead for electric flying as well as the technological hurdles to be overcome. The VTOL aircraft thereby fulfils two central functions: On the one hand, they open new options for urban mobility, with aircraft serving as “air taxis”. Secondly, innovative ideas can be tested for the first time and then be transferred to other aircraft. In this way, the CityAirbus is laying the ground for climate-neutral aviation.
Manching becomes a hub for the new mobility
At the new Manching drone centre, more testing for the electric rotorcraft will take place. From October, the latest and more developed model of the CityAirbus will be launched there. The focus will lie on range and payload. The team in Manching has set out to launch an economically viable version, which enables to fly above the city for the price of a taxi. Ingolstadt and its immediate surroundings are to become prime locations for the development of Urban Air Mobility. All in all, this will increase the attractiveness of the location, whilst also helping the climate.
Status: Sept 2021
Airports as hydrogen hubs: energy independence and climate protection
Achieving climate neutrality in the skies is of utmost concern for society at large. As aviation’s central infrastructure, airports will play a key role. This applies to both local traffic and to the supply of energy for aircraft. With the concept "Hydrogen Hub at Airports", Airbus is demonstrating how hydrogen can be supplied in the future to reduce emissions on the ground and in the skies.
To achieve climate-neutral flight, the role of airports will evolve. The emergence of new hydrogen technology will open up new functional possibilities for air traffic centres and makes them even more important for the energy transition in the skies. Infrastructure at airports will play a central role to help aviation become climate-neutral, while enabling airports to become energy independent.
Hydrogen technology to reduce emissions on the ground
Complex systems come together at airports. Ground transport, for example, includes the transport of passengers by bus, but also the use of heavy-duty vehicles for logistics, such as aircraft tractors and cargo vehicles. For some of these vehicles, electric alternatives to conventional engines already exist. But hydrogen has the potential to power more complex vehicle systems. In addition, hydrogen could help provide energy for cooling and heating buildings, thus reducing overall emissions at air traffic centres.
Sustainable infrastructure on the ground for the energy transition in the skies
Hydrogen will undoubtedly play a key role for future aircraft. Airbus recently presented three design concepts for a zero-emission aircraft that rely on hydrogen technology. Thus, the development of this technology will play a crucial role in achieving carbon neutrality in aviation.
Produce and use hydrogen on site
The production and liquefaction of hydrogen on site strengthens the importance of airports as energy suppliers – for their own needs and for hydrogen-powered aircraft. This solution would make transport to and from external hydrogen production plants superfluous. This way, airports could become future energy ecosystems centred on the production of liquid hydrogen.
"Hydrogen Hub at Airports": the possibilities of hydrogen at airports
Airbus has unveiled the “Hydrogen Hub at Airports” concept, outlining how hydrogen can be used at airports. This is a starting point for research into low-carbon airport operations and understanding the infrastructure requirements for hydrogen-powered aircraft. After all, widespread deployment of the technology will only succeed if the entire value chain adapts to hydrogen. For hydrogen to realise its full potential, the entire airport ecosystem must work together: airports, airport authorities, energy suppliers and regulators.
The first hydrogen aircraft concepts have been unveiled – now it's time to support deployment step by step. The energy transition in the skies is of concern for society at large and will succeed if all stakeholders come together. For airports, the transition to hydrogen has several advantages. For the climate, the benefit is immediate.
Status: July 2021
Hydrogen is the common denominator for climate-neutral flying
Flying will become climate-neutral. Airbus has ambitious goals for sustainable aviation and is already developing the aircraft of the future: the first zero-emission aircraft is expected to reach the market by 2035. Hydrogen will be at the heart of this aircraft. This energy carrier is set to change the aircraft from the ground up. Decisive measures and investments are now needed to make the energy transition in the skies a success.
Aviation connects people and markets worldwide. Two thirds of all tourists reach their destination by air and one third of all goods are shipped by air. Germany alone exports goods worth 150 billion euros every year by air. Hence, aviation plays a crucial role in overcoming the COVID-19 crisis economically. But this must be done sustainably.
High-profile panel shows the way to climate-neutral flying
Leading personalities from politics, research and industry agreed on this during the BDLI discussion series "AeroSpace Insights" at the end of May. We could see aircraft taking off with no emissions as early as the next decade – provided that the right course is set now and decisions are implemented quickly.
Hydrogen is the decisive technology for the decarbonisation of aviation
Different aircraft need different technologies to meet the requirements. On long-haul routes, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), or biomass-based fuel made of used cooking oil, waste, residue, etc., are the most promising option to substantially reduce emissions. Alternative fuels can also be produced using hydrogen. On short and medium-haul routes and on regional flights, hydrogen plays a central role as an energy carrier. Green hydrogen reduces greenhouse gas emissions directly and immediately, and promises spill-over effects to other parts of the economy. In order to cater to all of these innovative technologies, the supply of green hydrogen needs to be scaled up substantially. Strengthening Europe as a hydrogen technology hub also strengthens the continent's competitiveness.
A giant leap towards climate neutrality
Airbus is currently working on three design concepts to achieve climate-neutral aviation. A decision on one of these paths will be made around 2025, and the first zero-emission aircraft is expected to reach the market by 2035. By 2050, aviation as a whole has the potential to become climate-neutral. For this to succeed, the right course must be set today: technologically, logistically and politically. Therefore, demonstrator projects and test routes for pilot projects are needed now. This way, the necessary energy transition in the skies can succeed.
Engineers are already developing the aircraft of the future
The first technology demonstrators are already being planned by Airbus, with particular focus on the changes to the overall architecture of the aircraft. The aviation fuel tank must be fundamentally rethought, as hydrogen requires four times more volume than conventional kerosene and its temperature must be brought down to -250 degrees to liquefy. Airbus can also draw on the experience of the rocket manufacturer Ariane in Bremen. The aircraft of the future will be fundamentally different from today's models.
Germany has a unique opportunity to become the hub for climate-neutral flying. Everyone must now work together to ensure that the aircraft of the future comes from Germany and from Europe. The energy transition in the skies is a task for the entire society and it must begin now.
Status: June 2021
Sustainable alternatives to kerosene in the starting blocks
Airbus and the entire aeronautical industry are aware of their responsibility towards climate change policy and have pledged: climate-neutral growth from 2020 and halving net emissions by 2050 (compared to 2005). The goal is to develop "low emission aircraft" towards the overall goal of climate-neutral flying.
Sustainable aviation fuels play a key role on the road to climate neutrality. These so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) have been ready for use for 10 years, but have only been available in small quantities. The right conditions for their comprehensive deployment must now be created to scale the quantities and reduce the costs.
Aviation has set itself ambitious goals. From 2020, the aeronautical industry will be the first sector to grow emissions-neutral and to halve its CO2 emissions by 2050 (cf. 2005). One key to this lies in the transformation of the propulsion energy from fossil to renewable energy carriers – an energy transition in aeronautics.
Alternative fuels for climate-neutral flying
Since the dawn of the jet age, aeronautics has already reduced CO2 emissions by 80% per passenger-kilometre. The emissions from aeronautics can be reduced further by numerous measures, with SAF in particular having the biggest potential for long-haul flights. There are three possible variants for use in commercial air transport. Together, they can reduce the climate impact of aviation the most:
- Alternative drop-in-fuels can be blended with fossil kerosene and can therefore already be used today without technical conversion.
- Near-drop-in fuels such as 100% HEFA-SPK or FT-SPK (synthetic paraffinic kerosene) can further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are not yet certified, but can probably be used in modern aircraft without modifications.
- Non-drop-in-fuels such as cryogenic or gaseous hydrogen require considerable further development of the engine, tank and infrastructure, and could completely reduce emissions in the long term.
Kerosene is still unchallenged
New, alternative fuels are under current conditions at an economic disadvantage compared to fossil kerosene. Over decades, fossil kerosene has established itself as a highly-specialised, safe and cheap energy carrier in commercial aviation worldwide. This results currently in a considerable cost advantage of conventional fuel compared to SAF. The still-high production costs for synthetic kerosene must be reduced.
The energy transition needs investment
The energy transition in aviation will only be achieved through efforts by the whole of society. Due to the comparatively high price of alternative aviation fuels (SAF), their use in the near future will only be achievable through political support for their industrialisation and fixed regulations. In concrete terms, this requires an even stronger support for research and development and for production facilities. Furthermore, the use of SAF must be strengthened by financial incentives and planning security can be created through uniform global rules. This will make SAF competitive and serves as the basis for climate-neutral flying.
Status: Sept 2020
Flying remains the safest way to travel
Passenger safety is the top priority in air traffic – also in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Extensive measures and high-technology on board protect the travellers. This is why air traffic can now safely start up again. And it must, if we want to prevent irreparable economic damage.
Contagion on board is extremely unlikely
Safety is the top priority in aviation. Part of it is that the air in an aircraft is cleaner than in any other means of transport. This is because during the flight, the entire volume of cabin air is exchanged every three minutes. During this process, pathogens are constantly removed from the air by specialised HEPA filters.
The air also circulates vertically. This practically allows an individual air supply for each passenger. All of this minimises the risk of infection and makes cabin air extremely clean, comparable to an operating theatre in a hospital.
Air traffic is Europe’s lifeline
Our export-oriented economy is dependent on air traffic. Every day that the international exchange of goods halts, it costs Europe prosperity and jobs. Without air travel, tourism is also difficult to imagine. One in ten jobs worldwide depends on travel – without functioning air traffic, these jobs are at risk.
The stakes are high for Airbus as well: Airbus employs around 45,000 highly qualified staff in Germany and more than 100,000 people in Europe.
Let people travel safely
It is therefore essential to increasingly resume air traffic in Europe and beyond. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already presented comprehensive measures to guarantee passenger safety. Hence, there is no longer any reason to ban healthy people from travelling.
Nothing is preventing the successive opening of the borders now. This requires a risk-based approach, which could start with bilateral border openings. Building upon this, a European agreement on the criteria for multilateral border openings should be quickly reached. This must be done promptly in order to stabilise the industry and air traffic and to prevent the crisis from worsening unnecessarily.
Status: June 2020
Airbus Concept Plane exhibited in the newly opened FUTURIUM
Located in the heart of Berlin close to the AIRBUS office, the new FUTURIUM has been inaugurated in 2019. Being the house of the future, it provides insight into the topic areas of mankind, nature and technology – insight into the world of tomorrow.
With its 3D-printed Concept Plane, Airbus shows in the FUTURIUM how aircraft manufacturing may learn from nature. Nowadays, calculation methods of engineers increasingly relate to construction principles of organisms. As an example, particular components could comprise of minuscule structures, similar to long bones. This remarkable architecture proves to be ideal for aircraft construction. Material will thus only be applied where it contributes to stability, resulting in less kerosene consumption and a lower weight of the aircraft. 3D-printing allows to manufacture complex, very light and likewise extremely solid components. Engineers dream of printing an entire aircraft one day.
The FUTURIUM provides insights in tomorrow’s world. “How do we want to live?” is thereby the main question. Visitors can discover, test and debate. The entrance is free of charge.
Status: Sept 2019