Airbus tells EU hydrogen won't be widely used in planes before 2050

By Tim Hepher and Laurence Frost
PARIS (Reuters) - Most commercial aircraft will rely on traditional jet engines by at least 2050, Airbus said in a briefing published on Thursday about its research to create zero-emission hydrogen-powered aircraft to representatives of the European Union.
The aircraft maker plans to develop the world's first zero-emission commercial airliner by 2035, but has not publicly said whether the technology will be ready to replace the medium-haul A320 that is slated to be launched in the 2030s.
The February briefing to EU officials seemed to rule this out.
“From 2035, zero-emission hydrogen aircraft will be geared primarily towards regional and short-haul aircraft. This means that current and future iterations of highly efficient gas turbines will also be required by 2050, especially for long-haul operations, ”said the presentation.
How the technology, which is still on the drawing board, is to be introduced into the smaller aircraft, she did not do. Airbus says they are still studying different concepts.
Slides from the presentation to the office of European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans were released by InfluenceMap, an investor-led climate lobby watchdog, who said it received them through a freedom of information request.
They were part of a wider range of documents issued by the Watchdog in which airlines and manufacturers urged policy makers to use EU-backed green stimulus funds to support aviation.
Airbus declined to comment in detail on the February meeting.
While research is still at an early stage, possible avenues to replace the A320 are already a major discussion point as rival Boeing ponders how to secure the competing 737 MAX and engine manufacturers focus on gas turbine advancement.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun last week banned the use of hydrogen on any significant scale before 2050.
Hydrogen was also at the center of talks on European government support to aviation during the COVID-19 crisis.
In June last year, France announced an increase in funding for the aeronautical research organization CORAC, including € 1.5 billion over three years for technologies like hydrogen, saving 500 of the 15,000 jobs threatened by an Airbus restructuring.
In briefing notes, the Treasury set out investment targets, including hydrogen as the primary energy carrier for a successor to the A320, which could enter service in 2033-2035.
Industry officials have downplayed the prospect of switching to hydrogen to replace the A320 Family due to the size and range of the aircraft, as well as the infrastructure required around the world. According to Airbus, an A320 takes off or lands every 1.6 seconds.
Airbus officials say the research will definitely produce a disruptive technology that is likely to play a role in the next generation of aircraft.
Airbus technical director Jean-Brice Dumont told the French media association AJPAE on Thursday that hydrogen was one of several ways to decarbonise aviation and that it was too early to say in which part of the market it would be used.
"We may divide the market in other ways, but it's far too early to talk about it," he said.
As an intermediate step, Airbus and others have called for the greater use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in existing aircraft. Airbus announced on Thursday that it would test an A320 with 100% SAF by the end of this year. The current regulations allow a mixture of 50%.
In the February presentation, Airbus made industry forecasts that suggested the medium-haul A320 with 150 to 250 seats would run on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) first and, from 2050, on “possibly some hydrogen”.
A smaller niche between 100-150 seats, which also includes the A220 and Embraer E2, would use electricity, hydrogen and / or SAF from 2040, while only regional 50-100-seaters would be ready for hydrogen by the 2030s.
Airbus currently serves this market through its 50-70 seat ATR turboprop co-venture with the Italian company Leonardo.
Last September, Airbus unveiled three concepts for a hydrogen aircraft slated to enter service in 2035, including a turboprop aircraft, a traditional-looking twin-engine aircraft with hybrid hydrogen engines, and a more radical blended wing-body aircraft.
Airbus has announced that it will select the final product for a new decarbonised aircraft in 2025. The briefing also states that the choice of the concept should be narrowed down as early as mid-2022.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher and Laurence Frost; Editing by Mark Potter and Philippa Fletcher)
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