On the path to climate-neutral flight


An unprecedented crisis for the aviation sector

The aviation industry is going through its gravest crisis, with traffic levels as low as 20% compared to last year’s levels. Panellists from across the industry agreed today at #BAS2020 that air traffic is unlikely to return to its pre-crisis level before 2023 at the earliest. But there is hope ahead with the recent news of the vaccine, underlines Richard Aboulafia from Teal Group. Guillaume Faury, CEO at Airbus, echoes this further by highlighting that “the darkest hour is always before dawn.”


(Foto: Timm Bourry)

Air traffic will resume with a coordinated and uniform approach to testing and border-opening. This will reinvigorate passenger trust in air travel. Alexandre de Juniac, General Director and CEO at IATA, argues that the social and economic benefits of air travel will only be recuperated with a truly harmonised approach. This is why the industry calls upon European governments to urgently set of common and predictable rules for testing and re-opening of borders.


(Foto: Timm Bourry)

The aerospace industry is a pioneer in the transformation of the world

At #BAS2020, industry leaders stressed that technological innovations will be the key to zero-emission aviation. Liquid hydrogen propulsion systems, sustainable aviation fuels and turbofan aircraft designs were hailed as promising innovations for the future of flight. Grazia Vittadini, CTO at Airbus and her counterpart Greg Hyslop, Chief Engineer at Boeing, stressed that hydrogen holds huge potential to bringing zero-emission aircraft to market. This requires decarbonisation of energy and therefore collaboration of the aerospace and energy sectors. If such collaboration starts today, both industries will be ready as early as 2027. 


(Foto: Timm Bourry)

Crisis has accelerated the shift to digitalisation and sustainable recovery 

Whilst there is nothing good about this crisis, says Florian Guillermet from SESAR, it has accelerated the positive trends of digitalisation and sustainability. Axel Krein, Executive Director at Clean Sky Joint Undertaking, echoes this further by underlining that these trends will enable less noise and less emissions for future flights. 

There is an urgent need for a more digitalised ATM and uniform data usage in Europe, as this will increase efficiency and safety levels for aircraft operations. Uniformity will also be needed for global norms in sustainable aviation fuels to ensure they can be integrated into existing and future aircraft, highlights Maarten van Dijk from SkyNRG. All stakeholders have a part to play in the journey towards a fully digitalised and sustainable industry. 

The aviation sector must recover from this crisis stronger. The aviation industry connects the world and will continue to do so in the future. The sector sets to grow economically and ecologically before the turn of the next decade.

Carbon-neutral aviation possible within our lifetime


CTOs show a concrete pathway to sustainable aviation

“We are convinced that carbon-neutral aviation is achievable within our lifetime”, emphasised Grazia Vittadini from Airbus at the CTO panel at the #AeroDays2020 Forum. Her counterparts echoed the message by putting forward promising technologies that will enable zero-emission aircraft by 2050. The potential of hydrogen was hailed by all as it emits no CO2 and is three times lighter than jet fuels. This will however require different storage solutions in the aircraft, because it is much more voluminous. In parallel, research and development in gas turbines and electric propulsion must move forward to enable other modes of zero-emission flying. Engines can be made up to 20% more efficient, according to Chris Raymond from Boeing, translating into similar levels of emission-reduction. 


SAFs as the focal point of the energy transition in aviation

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) were praised by all as offering huge opportunity to drive sustainability in the aviation industry. SAFs could reduce aviation-induced emissions by at least 80%.  Siegfried Knecht from aireg pointed to the fact that there are currently too few companies which produce SAF. However, he sees light at the end of the tunnel, as there is enough feedstock available for SAF to meet the increase in production by 2030. The panellists talked about the need to address the high cost of SAFs, as the industry looks at commercialising these fuels in the coming years. Introducing mandatory quotas could address the issue of cost in a first instance. In addition, regulatory institutions must work together, according to Rob Watson from Rolls Royce, so that SAFs can be integrated into aircraft across the globe.

Improving costs and speed – digitalisation to revolutionise aerospace

“The future of aerospace will be data-centric”, explains Torsten Welte from SAP. The move towards the full digitalisation of the industry comes with improvements across the supply chain. From design to manufacturing, digitalisation enables a more cost and time efficient process to build the aircraft of the future. Artificial intelligence is also set to play a huge role in the years to come and will pave the way for more autonomous and single-pilot flying. Bruno Stoufflet from Dassault however cautions that this may cause resistance among pilots and passengers. Panellists underline that an accelerated certification process is  needed to really take digitalisation to the next level.

“We are on the cusp of implementing exciting new future technologies”, highlighted Prof. Iain Gray from Cranfield University. Three pipelines were identified as game-changers for climate-neutral aviation: reduction of aircraft fuel-burn, optimisation of ATM and the introduction of new aircraft fuels. Industry leaders unilaterally call for the development of new technologies within this decade, so they will be ready for authorisation and subsequent commercialisation before 2050. No company, no nation, and no industry, however, will master these challenges on its own. The industry as a whole must work together towards zero-emission aviation, while maintaining extremely high safety standards as the ultimate priority. 

Disruptive solutions kickstart the future of aviation

Towards a fully autonomous ATM

Digitalisation of air traffic management (ATM) will be key to a more seamless and rapid management of European airspace. Jan-Christian Schraven from Swiss International Airlines underlined that there are four challenges to overcome for ATM: punctuality, detours, old processes and new entrants. A more digital management of airspace could help to make aviation more scalable, environmentally efficient, predictable and resilient. With virtual centres or digital towers, controllers would be independent of geographical location and one single air traffic controller could provide services for multiple airports simultaneously. With better camera sight and enhanced visual surveillance, a more digital ATM will be the crux to deal with the uptick in air travel. The panellists however underline the urgent need to integrate drones into the ATM systems. These UAM will indeed form a more important part of air traffic in the years to come. 

Sustainable and silent – the promising future of urban air mobility

Urban air mobility holds the potential to revolutionise aviation. Lilium, Volocopter and Airbus presented fully-electric models that could fly in urban skies in the next few years. However, Hugues Langer, speaking on behalf of ASD Europe, underlines that four conditions must be met to make UAM a success. High levels of safety, zero-emission flights, a seamless integration with existing ground transport system and high-perceived value of the product by cities and the passengers are conditions to success. Promising milestones have already been achieved in Singapore, Dubai, Los Angeles and Paris. These cities understand that UAM require minimal added infrastructure in the city itself. If efforts are made towards reducing the cost for users, then, before long, UAM will make a real difference to traffic-optimisation and noise-reduction in congested cities. The panellists call for urgent and unilateral political support and regulatory approval to enable the roll-out of UAM in the cities of tomorrow. 


Visionary technologies in the pipeline

Fully-electric flying, lighter-than-aviation concepts, flying whales, supersonic jets or stratospheric platforms were some of the innovations presented at the #AeroDays FORUM. These out-of-the-ordinary technologies were hailed by their inventors as enabling worldwide access to the internet, real-time climate and pollution monitoring or even transportation of loads of up to 60 tonnes. But to make these technologies available within the next decade, public and private investments must increase substantially. Panellists unilaterally agreed that sustainability and safety were the key priorities for any of their visionary developments. 

Panellists attending the second and final day of the #AeroDays2020 FORUM concord: the future of aviation will be sustainable and digital. Increased funding into research and development will pave the way for safe, sustainable and speedy air travel. Public acceptance and regulatory approval are the final hurdles to overcome to make this vision a reality. To conclude the #AeroDays2020, Thomas Jarzombek, speaking on behalf of the German EU Council Presidency, summarises: “The #BAS2020 and the EU #AeroDays2020 have shown: We are one global community. Now, we need to restore trust in air travel, because only a sustainable aviation will keep its license to grow.“