Airbus has shown off plans for what could be the first commercial zero-emissions aircraft in service by 2035.
Powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, the three aircraft designs incorporate a range of configurations and technologies. The turbofan and turboprop concepts feature a familiar look, while the third design sports an eye-catching blended-wing body with a wide interior.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury described the project as an “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole,” and said he wants his company to play “a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen.”
Faury added that the newly unveiled designs offer a glimpse of the company’s bold ambitions for the future of zero-emission flight, saying, “I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen — both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft — has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”
If the designs take to the skies, both the turbofan and the cool-looking blended-wing body aircraft would have a range of 2,000 miles and be able to carry up to 200 passengers at a cruising speed of 511 mph, while the turboprop would offer a range of 1,000 miles and fly up to 100 people at a cruising speed of 380 mph.
The aviation industry has had something of an on-off relationship with hydrogen as a fuel for airplanes over the years. In the early 2000s, Airbus’s Cryoplane initiative examined the feasibility of a liquid hydrogen-fueled aircraft, while in 2008 Boeing flew the world’s first hydrogen-powered plane. But just two years later, the industry appeared to turn away from the technology due to the high energy costs associated with creating the fuel.
However, advances in technology have resulted in renewed interest in hydrogen as a power source, leading to other efforts in recent years, with Airbus’s stated intention to double down on research suggesting we could yet see commercial planes powered by hydrogen.
The boss of Airbus certainly believes that with technology continuing to develop, there’s a now a better chance than ever to turn its ideas into reality, with its latest concepts allowing the company to “explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft.”