Airbus has revealed three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035.

The concepts represent different approaches to achieving zero-emission flight, exploring various technology pathways and aerodynamic configurations, supporting the Company’s ambition of leading the way in the decarbonisation of the entire aviation industry.

All of the concepts unveiled rely on hydrogen as a primary power source – an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet climate-neutral targets.

Hydrogen: potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said: “This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight. I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”

The three concepts – all codenamed “ZEROe” – for a first climate neutral zero-emission commercial aircraft include:

A turbofan design (120-200 passengers) with a range of 2,000 plus nautical miles, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.

A turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, which would be capable of travelling more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it an option for short-haul trips.

A “blended-wing body” design (up to 200 passengers) concept in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.

Ambitions to deliver zero emission aircraft to customers by 2035

FINN spoke to Vice President of Airbus’ Zero Emission Aircraft Programme Glenn Llewellyn who explained: “The three concept planes that we’ve revealed today all have hydrogen propulsion systems on board. What they show is the huge versatility that hydrogen could bring the aviation industry because hydrogen is working from less than 100 seat aircraft, all the way up to 200 plus aircraft with varying ranges. Airbus has set itself a huge ambition to deliver zero emission aircraft to its customers by 2035.”

“Honestly, though, we can’t do this on our own. we need regulators, airport regulators, airports, energy suppliers, technology partners. And it’s through working with all of these colleagues that really this is going to become reality.”

The need for collaboration to make zero emission air travel a reality was echoed by Faury, who added: “These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035. The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”

To tackle the challenges, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. Support from governments will be key to meet ambitious objectives with increased funding for research and technology, digitalisation, and mechanisms that encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally friendly aircraft earlier.

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