CLEANSKY - Eco-friendly planes to fly by 2035 to reach climate-neutrality by 2050


By Axel Krein, Executive Director, Clean Sky, (pictured)

Summer 2021

Bold, rapid investment in research and innovation is needed to steer aviation firmly on a course towards climate neutrality by 2050.

The aviation sector has suffered immensely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in times of crisis opportunity can arise. This is our chance to leverage innovative clean technology to spur a competitive Green Recovery for aviation, in line with the ambitions of the European Green Deal.

We are not starting from zero – the industry has shown its commitment and started its green journey long ago. At Clean Sky we have already identified and delivered promising technologies and routes to zerocarbon aviation. Our European Partnership has been fuelling innovative developments in clean aviation technology since 2008, and since then we have made crucial strides towards climate-neutral flight.

We are exploring radical new aircraft configurations, eco-friendly engines, new systems technologies and airframes, innovations for large passenger aircraft and fast rotorcraft as well as regional aircraft and small air transport such as business jets. We leverage cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure that our innovations are developed to the highest possible standard. I highly recommend that you visit our online stand to get a taste of what Clean Sky is currently working on, or read our Highlights report to find out about our key achievements in 2020.

Some particularly interesting innovations include the TechTP, a sustainable low-fuel low-noise engine demonstrator for small aircraft and the UltraFan, a technology demonstrator for the next generation of environmentally-friendly gas turbines for large commercial aircraft. Two new projects have recently been added to our online stand: the electrical Environmental ControlSystem processes external air from outside the aircraft for better cabin pressurisation and air conditioning, while the MultiFunctional Fuselage Demonstrator utilises the full potential of thermoplastic composites to help future European airliner production become faster, greener and more competitive!

The technologies being developed by Clean Sky are just the beginning of the story. Once the concepts are proven and tested on our demonstrators, they must undergo a series of further steps before they can enter the market. The timeframes for the development and subsequent adoption of new aviation technology by global fleets is long – and we do not have much time.

It is important to understand that if we want to have a climate-neutral aircraft fleet by 2050, we need to start phasing carbon-neutral aircraft into the current fleet no later than 2035. The time between now and the end of this decade is therefore vital to identify, develop, mature and demonstrate the necessary technologies. We envisage that major flight and ground tests need to be carried out by 2027/2028 to secure climate-neutral aviation by 2050. Time is of the essence!

The European Partnership for Clean Aviation
To reach the ambitious climate objectives, and in close collaboration with the European Commission, the European aeronautics sector has worked out a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda for Clean Aviation, spanning 2021-2031.

The new European Partnership for Clean Aviation will launch later this year, and three main thrusts will be pursued as part of the its programme: hybrid electric and full electric concepts, ultra-efficient aircraft architectures, and disruptive technologies to enable hydrogenpowered aircraft.

The three thrusts will culminate in a new breed of regional, short haul and short/medium haul airliners which we anticipate will reach the market by 2030 for an entry into service by 2035. These new aircraft are likely to constitute 75% of the world’s commercial airline fleet by 2050 and thus will have a major impact on aviation emissions and climate impact.

On 22 April 2020, Clean Sky's Spring Event: Clean Aviation for a Competitive Green Recovery in Europe: Innovative Ideas Take Flight took place. I was delighted to welcome politicians, CEOs and aviation experts from across Europe to discuss how to best prepare for a competitive and sustainable recovery for the aviation sector.

Two key themes emerged from the event: that the challenge ahead is tremendous and should not be underestimated, but that nevertheless, we have the capacity and competence to succeed if sufficient investment and support is provided now.

The European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, brought a hopeful message with her as she addressed the audience. She recognised that "we are faced with a formidable challenge" but said that "recovery is a primary focus; and this recovery is an opportunity to shape the future of the aviation sector."

Clean Aviation could lead us out of the economic recession caused by Covid-19. Europe is currently a world leader in sustainable aviation technology, and by strengthening our commitment in this sector, there is the potential to significantly revive the European economy while simultaneously achieving our ambitious environmental objectives.

"Leading on sustainable aircraft will give a competitive advantage to the European aviation industry," said the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, while speaking at the Spring Event.

Clean Sky's ethos of bringing together industry, academia, research centres and SMEs is a recipe for success. Our projects benefit from the innovative edge of SMEs, the cuttingedge knowledge of academics and the research centres, as well as the market-driven expertise of the European aviation industry.

Jean-Eric Paquet, the Director- General of the European Commission’s Directorate of Research and Innovation, focused on this aspect as he addressed the audience at the Spring Event:

"I'm impressed by how the EU aviation industry is now coming together, including the research organisations and knowledge networks across our SME and innovation ecosystems to bring Europe's industry into a clean future. I think Europe now has a head start and my expectation is very much that the proposed Clean Aviation Partnership really allows us to ensure that we keep this head start. You can count on DG Research and Innovation to help you… to set up the new Partnership!"

The future of sustainable aviation looks bright, but we should not underestimate the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us. We do not have much time. Ambitious, fearless investment in research and innovation is needed NOW to make our climate neutrality aspirations a reality by 2050.

At Clean Sky, we are ready to take on this challenge. Clean Sky has so far yielded very encouraging results and I look forward to seeing the contribution of Clean Aviation to achieving the European Green Deal.