Dhe people want to fly. Above all safe, but also comfortable. And with less and less impact on the environment. Like all aircraft manufacturers, Airbus faces major challenges, particularly with regard to CO2 emissions from air transport. In a conversation with Sabine Klauke, it quickly becomes clear: There is no single solution, but “the way we fly will change significantly”.
There are a number of factors that need to work together. Less queues in the air, more efficient handling on the ground. But of course also the technology. One possibility is the increased use of Sustainable aviation fuel short SAF. These fuels, which are produced sustainably and as CO2-neutrally as possible, are a beacon of hope for aviation. They can be produced in various ways, for example based on biomass. They can come from used fats or waste, or from agricultural or forestry products. “To get straight to the point,” says Sabine Klauke, “the question of tank or plate is not an obstacle, it’s just a question of the certification of those fuels that don’t compete with the plate. Our main problem is availability. It is important to get the chicken-and-egg problem out of the way.”
In 2016, Airbus was the first aircraft manufacturer in the world to offer its customers the option of operating new aircraft with an admixture of SAF to conventional kerosene. Airbus commercial aircraft from the assembly plants in Toulouse have been offered with this option since 2016, from Alabama since 2018 and from Hamburg since 2020. To date, Airbus has delivered 90 aircraft fueled with SAF. Airbus also uses this sustainable fuel in its own fleet to reduce emissions. For example, the Beluga transport aircraft fly between the Airbus plants with SAF. All Airbus helicopters also use the new fuel in flight tests.
This should only be a start, Klauke encourages more commitment: “Today’s aircraft can fly with up to fifty percent SAF. In the future it will be one hundred percent. Technically we can fly without fossil fuels by the end of this decade. We can start with that immediately. The costs are two to three times higher. So it’s not that far away,” she says. However, it is still so far that costs and availability are hampering its spread and compared to conventional kerosene, SAF has so far only been used by airlines in the per thousand range.
“We see great potential in hydrogen”
As a clean drive, hydrogen is also set to play an important and increasingly important role. Klauke is already setting a time frame. “We see great potential in hydrogen. We plan to finalize the design of a hydrogen-powered Airbus by 2027 and launch it on the market by 2035.” “We will probably start with smaller models. The size of the first hydrogen Airbus will be around 100 to 200 seats and its range will be up to around 1850 kilometers,” says Klauke.
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