The technological evolution of aviation is overshadowed by the impact of its environmental footprint. This is a consequence of consumers’ growing appetite for air travel, confirms the European Aviation Environment Report 2022 from the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a study to which Clean Aviation, the EU’s research and innovation program to transform aviation towards a climate-neutral future, contributed data and ideas.
The report reveals that flight frequencies at European airports increased by 15% between 2005 and 2019 to 9.3 million, while passenger-kilometres increased by 90% (figures beyond 2019 are not shown). representative, due to the pandemic).
Despite significant environmental improvements and the benefits of market growth, namely societal connectivity, tourism and international trade, this growing demand has of course a price: CO2 emissions from flights departing from these airports have reached 147 million tonnes in 2019, 34% more than in 2005. Aviation emissions have continued and will continue to grow exponentially if we don’t break this trend.
According to the latest data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global air traffic is now at 73.7% of pre-COVID levels, while the total number of passengers to, from and he interior of Europe is expected to reach 86% of 2019 values before the end of 2022, with a full recovery expected in 2024.
Between 1989 and 2019, the air transport system quadrupled, but in comparison, emissions only doubled – a significant achievement – but we still need to do better.
Clearly, we urgently need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and the EASA report points to some remedies: it predicts that by 2050, sector-specific measures could reduce CO2 emissions by 69% to 59 million tonnes compared to a status quo. “tech freeze” scenario (19% technology/design, 8% air traffic management (ATM-Ops) operations, 37% sustainable aviation fuel and 5% electric/hydrogen aircraft).
Collaboration to Accelerate Rulemaking
EASA’s compelling conclusion that new aviation technologies must play an important role in facilitating net zero aspirations for European aviation aligns with Clean Aviation’s strategic research and innovation agenda, which is linked to objectives of the EU Green Deal. Clean Aviation’s goal is to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% compared to 2020 industry-leading aircraft, through the use of disruptive and impactful new technologies, to make a big step towards climate-neutral aviation in 2050.
To achieve aviation’s climate-neutrality goals by 2050, aircraft manufacturers and regulators must work together as new technologies are developed. Thus, a cooperation protocol between EASA and Clean Aviation was recently signed, aimed at reducing risks and demonstrating the feasibility of innovative aeronautical concepts and technologies.
EASA’s presence on Clean Aviation’s Board of Directors, Technical Committee and Scientific Advisory Body will accelerate the formulation of new safety rules. This deeper interaction will also facilitate European aviation’s ambition to set new safety and reliability standards for disruptive new aviation technologies in a wider global context.
The reinvention of European aviation’s environmental credentials has been progressing since the launch of the Clean Sky 1 and Clean Sky 2 programs – these have already delivered very tangible advances for EU research and innovation.
Clean Aviation, the third incarnation, goes much further, skipping a technology generation and moving forward with 20 bold new projects. These support Clean Aviation’s laser-sharp focus via three disruptive axes: New Technologies for Hydrogen Aircraft; hybrid electric regional aircraft; and ultra-efficient short- and medium-haul aircraft (all targeting flights under 4,000 kilometers, which are responsible for around 65% of global aviation CO2 emissions).
Clean Aviation projects will materialize key technological building blocks for the aviation landscape of the 2030s and beyond, pushing the frontiers of thermal management and electrical distribution solutions for hybrid-electric propulsion aircraft; advancing the science of lightweight liquid hydrogen storage solutions; and spearheading ultra-efficient propulsion projects.
Beyond these pioneering initiatives, there are many more in the pipeline, and qualified innovators interested in taking part in this journey are encouraged to engage with Clean Aviation through its calls process.
The enigma of innovation or certification
However, Clean Aviation’s mission to deliver climate-neutral aeronautics means that a “chicken or egg” conundrum must be solved: how to develop and certify rules and standards to ensure the safety of new disruptive technologies that could be the “solution”. miracle” for net-zero theft? How and why would his teams develop these breakthroughs without being convinced that they could be certified for use in the future aeronautical system? After all, pioneers cannot innovate without visibility into future security and certification requirements; conversely, policy makers cannot formulate and enforce regulations without understanding the properties of new technologies and the design philosophy of innovators.
Aviation safety is paramount
So far, aviation safety standards have steadily evolved and improved, as manufacturers push back technological barriers to improve performance, while regulators ensure checks and balances are in place to maintaining admirable aviation safety standards by refining rules and ensuring new technology is compliant, reliable and trusted by operators, passengers and the public.
Previously, airworthiness certification processes were linear, sequential and cautious, allowing manufacturers to launch new aircraft while raising the industry’s safety record to enviable levels of excellence. But with each generation of new aircraft, lead times have lengthened and costs have increased. All-new aircraft designs incorporating new technologies could take more than a decade to go from launch to market – unless the process of developing safety rules and ensuring compliance is broadly reconsidered.
Throughout this new Clean Aviation-EASA symbiotic collaboration, safety remains sacrosanct. Indeed, there is a saying in the aviation industry that new aircraft only receive safety certification when the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the aircraft. At Clean Aviation, we intend to make this process paperless wherever possible, using digitalization to strengthen safety standards, improve certification methodologies, increase efficiency and save trees.
The organization has therefore dedicated one of its projects, CONCERTO, to exploring new methods of certification and compliance of disruptive technologies. Its participants’ expertise in digital twin technology and digital product lifecycle management, combined with EASA’s safety skills, will ensure the optimization of the certification roadmap, using digitization to simulation, evaluation and documentation.
This is just the beginning, but the inauguration of this enhanced EASA-Clean Aviation collaboration will see the team moving forward at a steady pace.
With this unique approach, innovators and the regulator are now part of the same team, working closely together to make environmentally friendly aircraft a reality, while evolving safety rules. Together, EASA and Clean Aviation are navigating in synergy towards a more sustainable future for European aeronautics.