The European manufacturer revealed a breathtaking technological roadmap for developing, testing, and constructing a commercial aircraft family dubbed “ZEROe” and powered by hydrogen. Airbus expects the first CO2 neutral flights to take place in 2035. If the ambitious masterplan is implemented within the stipulated schedule, it would usher in a new, clean, and environmentally friendly era in global aviation.
It was in November 2019, during a meeting with aviation journalists in Hamburg’s noble Atlantic Hotel, when Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury first announced plans to build a zero-emission aircraft by
2035. Now, Mr. Faury and his team have updated and fleshed out the concept for a green Airbus future.
In a press release, the company speaks of three variants the manufacturer intends to build:
The smallest version would be a turboprop aircraft capable of accommodating up to 100 passengers per flight. It is powered by a hydrogen combustion engine enabling the aircraft to reach a nonstop range of 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles), thus making it an option for short-haul flights.
Twice that range (3,200 km / 2,000 miles) is possible with the turbofan design aircraft, powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen. The layout of the aircraft accommodates between 120 – 200 passengers, depending on the configuration. The tanks for the liquid hydrogen will be separated from the passenger cabin, and stored in the rear section of the aircraft, clearly perceivable from the outside given that there are no windows on that part of the body.
The most spectacular project is a blended-wing or delta-wing variant resembling a flounder. It can hold up to 200 passengers in its main body and those parts of its wings that merge with the hull. The range is similar that of the turbofan-designed aircraft, making it ideal for transcontinental operations. It resembles the Flying V-shaped model plane currently being tested by Netherland’s Delft University in close cooperation with Airbus and KLM (CargoForwarder Global, 12SEP20). If finally constructed, the Flying-V could accommodate up to 314 passengers and transport 160 m3 of freight in its lower deck sections, say its developers at Delft University.
The aerodynamic and operational results obtained during the practical testing of this prototype will deliver valuable data to Airbus for the construction of its planned delta-shaped aircraft.
No matter what the outcome is, the blended-wing variant is the most cargo-friendly aircraft in comparison to the other two models evaluated by Airbus, since it offers the largest transport capacity for freight. Airbus stresses that “the exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.”
Goodbye fossil fuel, hello hydrogen
"It is our ambition to be the first manufacturer to commission such an aircraft," Airbus Group CEO Faury told the French daily newspaper ‘Le Parisien - Aujourd'hui en France’. This would require investments in the double-digit billion-euro range and airports capable of supplying sufficient hydrogen.
France's influential Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, had announced in a recent interview that the country wants to invest seven billion euros in hydrogen technology in the long run. A support benefitting the aviation industry directly.
In Hamburg, located 900 kilometers northeast of Paris, the local politicians welcomed the project announced by Airbus. The city’s Senator for Economic Affairs, Michael Westhagemann pointed out that “Hamburg is currently developing one of the world’s largest hydrogen electrolysis plants as an infrastructural prerequisite to create a self-sustaining hydrogen economy.” He assured Airbus the Senate’s full support in achieving the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft.
Hamburg has, since decades, been home to the European aircraft manufacturer’s second largest production site after Toulouse, France.
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