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“Fly high, fly green – climate-neutral aviation by 2050” Axel Krein @ Industry Days

24 February 2021

The impact of aviation on all of our lives is immense. What needs to be done to make aviation greener, without compromising on the economic gains that the sector brings? Is it possible to have an aviation sector that is both competitive and sustainable?

As one of the keynote speakers at the EU’s Industry Days on 24 February 2021, Clean Sky’s Executive Director Axel Krein described aviation’s role in society today, and laid out what needs to be done to secure a climate-neutral aviation sector by 2050. He said: “At Clean Sky, we believe that now is the time for a revolution in aviation… fast, radical change for a greener, brighter future!”

Aviation’s contribution to our economy is impressive – the sector supports almost 90 million jobs worldwide, with 13.5 million in Europe, and if aviation were a country in 2019, it would rank 17th in the world in terms of GDP, around the same size as the Netherlands.

“The big challenge,” said Axel, “is how can we maintain the positive effects of flying and at the same time eliminate the negative effects, the emissions, and bring them down to zero?”

Complicating that challenge is, of course, the pandemic. It’s an understatement, remarked Axel, to say that Covid-19 has “shaken the aviation sector”.

But, now aviation has the opportunity to “build back better, in a greener and more sustainable way”. If we take the right action, and quickly, then “2019 could be the peak year for emissions,” Axel stated.

Axel’s message, as he addressed Europe’s flagship annual event on industry, was one of hope, but urgency.

Time is of the essence, he stressed, if we are to hit our ambitious climate neutrality goals. Clean Sky is currently investigating a wide range of different technologies that could make climate neutrality a reality. But, a lot more work must be done before those technologies are market-ready, and the time has come to ramp up our green aviation research activities.

“If we want to be zero-emission by 2050, those new [aircraft] products cannot only start to enter the market by 2040 or 2045,” said Axel.

It’s not only the aviation industry that’s involved in this transition – Clean Sky’s programme is based on a collaborative structure with universities, research centres and SMEs all taking part. In fact, SMEs represent almost 40% of Clean Sky’s participants, and their “creativity is a inspiring force”, said Axel.

An investment of €12 billion into research and innovation is needed right now. Based on the results of that investment, this will trigger aircraft manufacturers to invest a further €50 billion to develop new aircraft types, and finally, €5 000 billion spent on product deployment will result in 26,000 new green aircraft.

“We need to significantly invest in research and innovation, but it seems to be a very good return on investment,” said Axel.

Clean Sky 2 will continue until 2024, while a new public-private partnership for sustainable aviation looks likely. The European Commission announced their proposal for a new European Partnership for Clean Aviation yesterday – read more here.

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