LONDON – Back in February this year, European aerospace giant Airbus revealed that “1,429 aircraft sold in 2019 and 2020” will “emit over 1bn tonnes of CO2”, revealing considerable climate concerns in a new arena which is focusing on becoming carbon neutral (Jolly, 2021).
This figure produced by Airbus is based on each of the 1,429 aircraft averaging an “in-service lifetime of approximately 22 years” as per its findings from the Scope 3 Disclosure document on their website (Airbus, 2021).
This article will take a look at the manufacturer’s findings presented a couple of months ago as well as what the company is aiming to do in order to combat this, especially through its innovative ideas towards hydrogen-powered aircraft.
The manufacturer dissected the 2019 and 2020 numbers individually to give more of a reflection of the tonnage that will be emitted over 22 years.
It is obviously key to note that less aircraft were delivered in 2020 due to the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“2019: Airbus delivered 863 commercial aircraft. Based on an average in-service lifetime of approximately 22 years, the total CO2 emissions for these products over their anticipated lifetime are estimated at approximately 740 MtCO2e — 130Mt of which are linked to upstream fuel production. This translates to an average efficiency of 66.6 gCO2e per passenger-kilometer.”
“2020: Airbus delivered 566 commercial aircraft. The total anticipated lifetime CO2 emissions for these products are estimated at approximately 440 MtCO2e — 80Mt of which are linked to upstream fuel production. This translates to an average efficiency of 63.5 gCO2e per passenger-kilometer.”Scope 3 Disclosure Report, Airbus (2021)
The manufacturer noted in this disclosure form that such figures do not take into account “the anticipated gradual introduction of decarbonisation measures, such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and hydrogen” (ibid).
This means that such results are in the worst-case scenario and is going to be used as a benchmark to produce results on efficiencies throughout the decade and beyond.
With Airbus being the first aerospace manufacturer to produce this sort of report, it shows that it is taking into account the “assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organisation” and shows such a recognition in “its role in contributing to the reduction of aviation’s global environmental footprint” (ibid).
In a report to the board of directors, the manufacturer is taking a strong response towards the needs of the climate and the planet.
For example, in 2020, the remit of the Ethics & Compliance Committee was enlarged “to include environment and sustainability matters”, bringing such concerns more into the spotlight (Airbus 2021a, p. 24).
Evidence that also substantiates this point is through Airbus’ complete adoption of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which the aerospace giant states will embrace “a shared blueprint and common reference as to what will guarantee a sustainable future” (ibid, p. 83).
It also states it will “lead the way in the decarbonisation of our industry and sustainable global travel”, offering strong promises in the report to make a strong effort to bring emissions down (ibid).
What Airbus also understands about this is transitioning into a more innovative position will help sustain the 87.7 million jobs supported by the industry worldwide, of which 11.3 million is directly in aviation (ibid, p. 85).
Approaching the Innovative Arena
For the innovative arena, Airbus is strongly focusing on two things at this present time to enhance its potential successes in helping the climate:
- Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)
- ZEROe – Airbus’ Hydrogen-powered program.
Starting off with SAF, it is a relatively new thing that Airbus has been trialling considerably over the last two years, with “flights out of Hamburg with its Beluga transport aircraft” (Airbus, 2021b).
It is key to note that SAFs itself have been researched since 2008.
July 2020 saw Air Transat’s two brand new A321 Long Range aircraft on lease from AerCap powered by the SAF’s on its delivery flights from Hamburg (ibid).
Air BP, the supplier of the SAF, stated that “it can reduce up to 80% of greenhouse gas emissions over its life cycle compared to conventional jet fuel”, due to the non-palm renewable and sustainable raw materials in the fuel (BP, 2020).
SAF has indeed taken off considerably, especially with the fact that it has been “used in more than 200,000 flights” already due to the flexibility of being able to be mixed with conventional aviation fuel (Airbus, 2021c).
SAFs have come in at a positive time for the industry, especially with Airbus conceding that electric and hybrid aircraft are “unlikely to be commercially available until the 2030s” (ibid).
And with airlines, it is also taking off. “Airlines have committed to forward purchase agreements for around six billion litres of SAF” (ibid).
This is despite the fact that in 2018, there was only 15 million litres available, meaning more is going to have to be done in terms of infrastructure to generate more of this product throughout the next decade or so (ibid).
It ultimately brings us to the next innovative element to the arena. ZEROe. This is the new concept aircraft by Airbus which has an entry-into-service target of 2035, and will run completely on Hydrogen propulsion.
For those unaware to ZEROe, “hydrogen fuel cells create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system”, which will push-forward Airbus’ target of developing “the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft” (Airbus, 2021d).
The manufacturer will be offering three concepts within the ZEROe program:
- Blended-Wing Body (BWB)
All three concepts will be ran by two engines, with the different design shapes opening up “multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution” (ibid).
The turboprop will sit less than 100 passengers with a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, with the BWB and Turbofan aircraft sitting less than 200 passengers and offering over 2,000 nautical miles of range.
Such ideas put forward has placed Airbus in The Coalition for the Energy of the Future where it will be helping particularly in Project Five, which looks at zero emissions vehicles for road, air and sea transportation (Airbus, 2021e).
Jean-Brice Dumont, Executive Vice President of Engineering at Airbus commented on this motion stating Airbus’ ambitions for sustainable aviation.
“We are convinced of the benefits that joint initiatives can bring in finding innovative solutions to reduce the C02 emissions of our industry — because we know this challenge requires a collective effort. We believe this coalition will foster the development of creative projects with effective results that will pioneer new mobility models across the sector.”Jean-Brice Dumont, Executive Vice President Engineering, Airbus, February 23, 2021
It is clearly evident that there is a long-road ahead for aviation to be sustainable to the point of helping the climate.
With Airbus being the first aerospace giant to offer such transparency, it will now put pressure on competitors to offer the same level of information. AviationSource got in touch with Boeing requesting the same level of information, but at the time of writing, the company has not got back to us.
But what we know, is that despite criticism from environmental groups in the past, aerospace companies are beginning to take notice of the potential negative consequences facing this planet over the next 30 years.
Another thing to consider is that this will take a long time for things to adapt sufficiently. With aviation being such an immensely huge industry, change has to be drip-fed, otherwise its true form of volatility could hinder efforts to become carbon neutral going into the future.
- Jolly, J. (2021), Airbus Reveals Planes Sold in Last Two Years Will Emit over 1bn Tonnes of CO2, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/feb/26/airbus-reveals-planes-sold-in-last-two-years-will-emit-over-1bn-tonnes-of-co2 [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021), Scope 3 Disclosure, https://www.airbus.com/company/sustainability/reporting-and-performance-data/scope-3-disclosure.html#obj [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021a), Report of the Board of Directors, https://www.airbus.com/investors/annual-general-meetings.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021b), Airbus Starts Hamburg Deliveries with Sustainable Aviation Fuel, https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2020/07/airbus-starts-hamburg-deliveries-with-sustainable-aviation-fuel.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- BP (2020), Airbus Takes off With SAF Supplied by Air bp, https://www.bp.com/en/global/air-bp/news-and-views/sterling-card-newsletters/airbus-takes-off-with-saf-supplied-by-air-bp.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021c), Sustainable Aviation Fuel: A Recipe for Cleaner Flight, https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/stories/sustainable-aviation-fuel.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021d), ZEROe, https://www.airbus.com/innovation/zero-emission/hydrogen/zeroe.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]
- Airbus (2021e), The Coalition for the Energy of the Future Unveils Its First Seven Concrete Actions and Welcomes Three New Members, https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2021/02/the-coalition-for-the-energy-of-the-future.html [Last Accessed 27th February 2021]