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Future of flight

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

Airbus welcomes BDLI campaign

Despite there still being no new government, things are happening in Berlin. This is the first legislative period for nearly 40% of the members of the German parliament. Our goal is to provide all these politicians, as well as all those re-elected – and, of course, all other interested parties elsewhere – with comprehensive information about aerospace topics. To do this, willing employees from the Berlin Airbus office are joined by staff at the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI).

We therefore expressly welcome the “Final Call” issue and information campaign launched by BDLI a few days ago. Extensive information on topics and issues relating to the aerospace industry will be shared via posters and digital channels (www.schub-für-mobile-zukunft.de; Twitter #finalcall) over the next weeks and months, up until the Berlin Air Show (April 25-29). The topics to be addressed range from civil aviation to helicopters and space travel. The campaign focuses on questions relating to technology and sustainability, but also reflects on how aviation can contribute to future mobility concepts, for example in urban areas, and as a complement to conventional means of transport.

BDLI Kampagne

Buzzword – environmental protection

Carbon neutral growth is to be achieved in aviation from 2020. To fulfil this objective, technological innovations are more important than ever. Electric mobility plays a key role. This is a key technology, not only on the roads, but also in the air!

 

Buzzword – noise emissions:

With aircraft models such as the A350 XWB and the A320neo, Airbus is setting new standards, not only in terms of significant reductions in fuel consumption, but also in noise levels. Thanks to innovative engines, the noise footprint has been halved in comparison to the previous generation. In coming years, modern “whisper jets” will replace ever-ageing models and thus play a notable part in relieving the burden on the hundreds and thousands of people living near airports.

 

Buzzword – urban mobility:

All around the world, today's city roads are already congested. Increasing urbanisation means that this trend is only set to further intensify. By 2030, around 60 percent of the Earth’s population will be living in towns and cities. New future mobility concepts can provide a remedy here by taking air space (3rd dimension) into account in town planning. For example, in the near future, the CityAirbus is set to transport up to four passengers through primarily urban airspace. In order for us to make this a success, above all, infrastructure and regulatory requirements must be fulfilled. Through innovative concepts and in conjunction with politics, our goal is to create the framework required to make modern agglomerations less stressful and more habitable.

Buzzword – space: 

Space also offers possibilities for making our life on Earth simpler and more comfortable, for example via the use of navigation systems to continually identify the quickest and most efficient routes. In this respect, the European Galileo satellite navigation system is a future-oriented technology which has been operating in space since 2016, currently with 18 satellites developed and built under German leadership. It is the European Union’s largest infrastructure project.

For these kinds of technologies and projects to be implemented, as well as innovative companies such as Airbus, the necessary political framework conditions must also be present. This is another point highlighted by the BDLI campaign. It is thus an important platform for further promoting dialogue between the aerospace industry and politics. Whether on site or via the live broadcasts, the Berlin Air Show, April 25-29, will be the occasion to admire just how fascinating the results – and above all the products – of an innovative aerospace industry are.


Status: Jan 2018

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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