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Paving the way towards climate-neutral aviation

15 January 2021

“There’s no one silver bullet for clean aviation,” said Clean Sky’s Executive Director Axel Krein, while giving the keynote address at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Aviation’s SciTech Forum on 14th January 2021.  “We need a combination of different actors, technologies and measures.” 

Investment in a suite of different potential technologies is needed if we are to make clean aviation a reality. Transforming flight into a climate-neutral activity is a great technical challenge, and requires investigating a variety of avenues. In his keynote address ‘Paving the way towards climate-neutral aviation’, Axel outlined the strides that Clean Sky has made and the different technology streams that have been investigated since the programme was started 12 years ago. 

Clean Sky’s current programme examines many facets of aviation technology, from engine design to aerodynamics to cabins, and the solutions that emerge will combine to create a cleaner, greener form of air transport. If you’re interested in discovering those technologies, visit our online stand!

Research carried out to date has identified three main change drivers to make aviation climate-neutral: reduction of aircraft fuel burn, air traffic management and operations, and new fuels. Going forwards, the technical areas that show the most promise for the future are: hybrid and full electric architectures, disruptive technologies for hydrogen-powered aircraft and ultra-efficient aircraft structures. 

Over the past decades, with the exception of the 2020 pandemic, the aviation sector has grown rapidly, bringing economic growth, increased job opportunities and better global mobility. One of the issues facing aviation engineers is how to safeguard that growth and opportunities while protecting the environment from more harm.  

“The big challenge is how can we keep the positive effects of flying and eliminate the negative effects,” said Axel. 

Not all aircraft affect the climate equally – 90% of all CO2 emissions are generated by aircraft that are above 200 seats, while 60% of all CO2 emissions are generated by flights at altitudes lower than 3000 km. According to Axel, we should be focusing our research efforts on those areas that will help reach our goals quicker. 

“We are going to see new aircraft appearing in the market designed for climate neutrality with a small number of seats flying at low altitudes, because that is what’s technically feasible,” said Axel. He envisions that in the near-future, there will be less long-haul flights and more stop-overs, which will mean fewer flights at altitudes above 3000km and therefore less impact on the environment.  

Engaging with local projects has been a core part of Clean Sky’s agenda to date. Clean Sky supports regional projects by engaging in Memoranda of Understandings with various regions. Although these are locally-funded projects, they are complementary to Clean Sky’s objectives and Clean Sky works with regional authorities and local projects to help them to achieve their goals. 

On 15th January, Clean Sky will also be presenting Special Sessions during the SciTech Forum. These sessions will feature several Clean Sky demonstrators, such as BLADE, the DRAGON concept, the Iron Bird and RACER, and there will be presentations on greener bizjets, smart fixed wing aircraft, load control, regional multi-mission aircraft, power composites, electrified aircraft technology and more. View the programme here.