Building a hydrogen aircraft is relatively easy. Permanently operating it is much more challenging. This was the core message that Ingmar Koch delivered to Irish H2 experts who had been invited by Hamburg’s Chamber of Commerce to explore the options of an energy pact. Mr. Koch, who is Chief of Staff, Airbus Operations Germany, titled his presentation: “The future of aviation and what are the big challenges.” Almost concurrently with this event, Airbus published its latest 2022-2041 forecast.
Manager Koch confirmed plans that Airbus will have its first hydrogen-powered aircraft enter into service by 2035. It will be powered by liquid hydrogen, not gas.
He stressed that the aircraft developer’s biggest concern is the lack of H2 ground infrastructure at airports. Establishing an adequate ecosystem is a precondition to guarantee constant supply, Mr. Koch emphasized. It is the typical chicken-and-egg issue: what is first, what comes second?
Airports should embark on the H2 avenue
In this case, the lack of H2 filling stations seems to be the greatest stumbling block eventually jeopardizing, or at least delaying, the era of commercial aviation based on climate-friendly hydrogen propulsion.
His recommendation: larger airports need to develop into hydrogen hubs, otherwise they will disconnect from climate friendly air traffic. They need to build up an interconnected system consisting of core elements such as H2 production & liquefaction, contracts with suppliers for ongoing supply, conversion of vehicles from fossil fuel consumption to H2 powered systems, and all of this must be combined with and strict safety management that includes all sectors.
New ecosystem needed
As far as the time horizon for the air framer’s own H2 program is concerned, he speaks of “a very aggressive roadmap” guiding Airbus to bring zero-emission commercial aircraft to market by mid-2030. The aircraft configuration phase will start ten years prior to this, in 2025, followed by product development. At the same time, anticipating and preparing the ecosystem required to operate H2 propelled aircraft is a key task high up on Airbus’ H2 agenda, as is the regulatory framework that needs to be defined before starting the test program.
Ireland on way to becoming exporter of clean energy
The meeting also showed that the supply of hydrogen can only be secured through international cooperation. After all, some countries, such as Ireland, have geographical advantages, others do not. “Our wind reserves vastly exceed our domestic electrical demand,” said a member of the Irish delegation, pointing at climate data. He estimated the offshore wind potential Irish energy suppliers could harvest as surpassing 70 GW. This surplus wind should be used to produce hydrogen which, after being liquefied, could be shipped to EU ports or LNG terminals. “Now it’s the time for Ireland to take greater responsibility in playing its part in Europe’s energy security,” the German Ambassador to Ireland, Cord Meyer-Klodt, emphasized in a welcoming speech. This was supported by the German side. According to a survey tabled by the Chamber of Commerce, an import rate for green hydrogen exceeding 70% of local production is needed in Germany by 2030 to cover industrial demand.
SAF as transitional solution
As far as Airbus is concerned, the airframer will continue to rely on climate-friendly SAF until H2 aircraft are in use. This primarily affects the Beluga fleet, which flies aircraft components back and forth between the various Airbus production sites. “Fueling aircraft with SAF is an immediate carbon reduction solution, available today,” stressed Manager Koch, conceding however, that SAF is a rare and expensive commodity, substantially increasing air transport prices.
280 – the magic A350F target
Over in Toulouse, Airbus presented its latest market forecast 2022-2041. According to Heidi Carpenter, External Communications, Airbus Commercial Aircraft, there is a global demand for around 2,440 freighter deliveries, with nearly 900 of these being newbuilds.
In the cargo market, the 150 or so 747-400Fs and -400ERFs still in active operation will inevitably be retired in the next five to ten years due to their advanced age and high fuel consumption. “This results in an interesting replacement market,” states Ms. Carpenter. And a demand for newbuilds. “We expect, in the overall market, a global demand for large widebody aircraft of 560 production freighters over the next 20 years.”
Airbus aims to secure at least 50% from this portion for its own freighter programs, particularly the A350F variants, Heidi Carpenter confirms.
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