Future of flight

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:

 

 

  1. Alternative drop-in-fuels can be blended with fossil kerosene and can therefore already be used today without technical conversion. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

 

ZEROe is an Airbus concept aircraft. In the turbofan configuration, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust. The liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead

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.

Fly to your future

Flying is the safest way to travel.

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 recently. Being the house of the future, it provides insight into the topic areas of mankind, nature and technology – insight into the world of tomorrow. 

 

Airbus im Futurium

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

Bertrand Piccards vision of clean aviation

Guest article

Ever since the Wright brothers took off for the first powered flight in 1903, aviation has been driving our imagination and innovative strength. And it's set to continue to do so in the future. But in what areas? Flying is already fast and safe; now it needs to be made even cleaner.

Bertrand Piccard ist der Initiator und Visionär hinter Solar Impulse, dem ersten Flugzeug, das dauerhaft ohne Treibstoff fliegen kann. Im Jahr 2016 gelang es Piccard, der sich mit André Borschberg im Cockpit des einsitzigen Solarflugzeugs abwechselte, nur mit Sonnenkraft getrieben einmal die Welt zu umrunden. Mit dieser Pioniertat wollte er für die Nutzung von erneuerbaren Energien werben. Im nächsten Schritt plant Piccard unter anderem die Gründung der World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.  
Picard
People 13 July 2018

Picard

Bertrand Piccard ist der Initiator und Visionär hinter Solar Impulse, dem ersten Flugzeug, das dauerhaft ohne Treibstoff fliegen kann. Im Jahr 2016 gelang es Piccard, der sich mit André Borschberg im Cockpit des einsitzigen Solarflugzeugs abwechselte, nur mit Sonnenkraft getrieben einmal die Welt zu umrunden. Mit dieser Pioniertat wollte er für die Nutzung von erneuerbaren Energien werben. Im nächsten Schritt plant Piccard unter anderem die Gründung der World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.

Read more

Bertrand Piccard is the initiator and visionary behind Solar Impulse, the first aircraft that can fly long-distance without fuel. In 2016, taking turns with André Borschberg in the single-seater cockpit of the solar aircraft, Piccard succeeded in flying around the world using only solar energy. With this pioneering act, his aim was to make the case for the use of renewable energies. As the next step, among other things, Piccard is planning to found the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.

That’s exactly what I wanted to demonstrate with Solar Impulse: that long-haul powered flights are possible without a single drop of fuel. Will we soon see fully solar-powered aircraft carrying 300 passengers across the oceans? To answer yes would be crazy. To answer no would be stupid. The required technology doesn’t exist yet. But the same was true for Lindbergh when he was faced with the first transatlantic flight. We must realise that limits only exist in our head! And even before people travel in fuel-free aircraft, we can make aircraft and airports cleaner:

Storage capacity and energy efficiency

If you think about the fact that one kilogram of jet fuel produces 36 times as much power as a one kilogram lithium-ion battery, a change appears unrealistic. But in comparison to combustion engines, electric engines are two to three times more efficient and significantly lighter. In light of that, the switch appears a lot more feasible. I bet that in less than 10 years, all-electric aircraft will be flying short and medium-haul routes, landing quietly at city airports with up to 50 passengers on-board. There are also concepts for electric tow trucks capable of bringing aircraft onto the runway without fuel. In parallel, we need to be carrying out research into hydrogen-powered aircraft, hybrid solutions and biofuels.

Profitability

Clean technologies have the potential to give new momentum to the entire aviation industry. Take Fort Worth Airport for example: last year, it became the first airport in the US and the 23rd worldwide to achieve carbon-neutral status. This has resulted not only in increased profits, but also a 38 percent saving in energy costs – despite passenger numbers having increased by 15 percent since 2010.

Legal framework conditions

For our round-the-world flight, the legal challenges were often just as high as the technical ones – with regard to overflight permissions for instance. Regulations must keep pace with the development of aviation. To save flying time and fuel, we need to prioritise direct flight paths. Likewise for continuous descent approach procedures, which can save a tonne of fuel for every large aircraft which lands.

For decades, Germany has been known for its innovative strength and strong industry. Probably more so than any other country, it is pre-destined to conquer the ambitious transition to a climate-friendly economy. Success will depend on the pioneering spirit of governments and major corporations.


Status: March 2017

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