Airbus CEO says hydrogen plane is ‘the ultimate solution’

A model of one of Airbus’ ZEROe concept planes shown in Hamburg, Germany on January 18, 2022.

Marcus Brandt/dpa | photo alliance | Getty Images

Aviation could face significant challenges if it is unable to decarbonise in a timely manner, according to the Airbus CEO, who added that hydrogen planes represent the “ultimate solution” in the medium and long term. term.

In an interview with CNBC’s Rosanna Lockwood on Thursday, Guillaume Faury – who was speaking after his company announced its results earlier in the day – said aviation “will potentially face significant hurdles if we don’t to decarbonize at the right pace”.

Aviation’s environmental footprint is significant, with the World Wide Fund for Nature describing it as “one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change” . The WWF also claims that air travel is “currently the most carbon-intensive activity an individual can do”.

Faury presented a number of areas that Airbus was focusing on. This included making sure planes burned less fuel and emitted less carbon dioxide. Additionally, the planes the company was delivering now had certified capacity for 50% sustainable aviation fuel in their tanks.

“We need to see the SAF industry move forward, grow, grow to serve the airlines and be able to use this 50% capacity of SAF,” he said, referring to the sustainable fuel industry of aviation. “We will go 100% by the end of the decade.”

The above was a “very important part of what we do,” Faury said. “The next one is looking at the medium to long term future to bring the hydrogen plane to market, because that’s really the ultimate solution,” he said, noting that many engineering, research and capital would be needed. .

In September 2020, Airbus released details of three concept “hydrogen-hybrid” aircraft, saying they could enter service by 2035. In the same month, a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft capable of carrying passengers was made its maiden flight.

Although some are excited about hydrogen aircraft and their ability to potentially reduce aviation’s environmental footprint, considerable work remains to be done to commercialize the technology and deploy it at scale.

Speaking to CNBC last October, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary sounded cautious about the outlook for new and emerging technologies in the sector.

“I think… we should be honest again,” he said. “Certainly, for the next decade…I don’t think you’ll see that – there’s no technology that’s going to replace…carbon, jet aviation.”

“I don’t see the arrival of… hydrogen fuels, I don’t see the arrival of sustainable fuels, I don’t see the arrival of electric propulsion systems, certainly not before 2030,” he added.

On the sustainable aviation fuel front, Faury’s comments represent the latest addition to a discussion that has become increasingly important in recent years as concerns about sustainability grow.

Although the European Union Aviation Safety Agency says there is “no single internationally agreed definition” of sustainable aviation fuel, the general idea is that it can be used to reduce aircraft emissions.

In terms of content, Airbus has previously described sustainable aviation fuels as being “made from renewable raw materials”. He said the most common raw materials “are cultured or utilized cooking oils and animal fats.”

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Last week, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association told CNBC that consumers would be willing to pay the additional costs associated with using sustainable aviation fuel.

“Sustainable fuels cost about double what you pay for…traditional jet kerosene, so it represents a significant increase in the airline industry’s cost base,” Willie Walsh said. “And ultimately consumers will have to pay for this, it’s way too much for the industry to bear.”

In the long run, they would recognize that was the case. “It’s such an important issue. At the end of the day, they will be willing to pay,” he added.

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