FARNBOROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM — In September 2020, Airbus showcased ambitious conceptual designs for a potential zero-emissions commercial aircraft, with plans for its entry into service within 15 years. All three groundbreaking concepts were to be powered by hydrogen, demonstrating the boldest backing for the fuel as the aviation industry seeks to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Two and a half years later, Airbus' head of research and technology, Mark Bentall, confirms that the 2035 service-entry target remains unchanged. Speaking at the Sustainable Skies conference in Farnborough in April, Bentall expressed optimism, stating that ongoing technology research has yet to reveal any insurmountable obstacles.

Bentall acknowledges the substantial challenge ahead but emphasizes that the technology isn't attempting to defy the laws of physics. The focus now is on incorporating hydrogen energy into a viable product, which requires addressing certification, safety, airport, and refueling aspects.

As the industry faces the daunting task of transforming aviation operations, Airbus and its partners continue to work on multiple initiatives to improve efficiency. Bentall cites collaboration with Rolls-Royce on its UltraFan engine demonstrator, which promises a 10% fuel-burn improvement over the Trent XWB engine used in the A350 widebody. Furthermore, Airbus is partnering with CFM International to flight test the RISE open-fan demonstrator on an A380 testbed later this decade.

While propulsion advancements are crucial, Airbus is also concentrating on wing technologies. The multinational Wing of Tomorrow program and the Extra Performance Wing initiative, operated through Airbus UpNext, are exploring various technologies to enhance aerodynamic performance in future aircraft.

Bentall asserts that the portfolio of technologies, concepts, and ideas is abundant, but not all will make it onto the aircraft. The goal is to ensure the best possible combinations contribute to efficient, high-performing, and sustainable aircraft for the future.