Report: Electric, Hydrogen Aircraft Could Meet Intra-EU Travel Needs

Airbus Zero-E 6 pods
Airbus is studying hydrogen fuel-cell-powered aircraft concepts under its ZEROe program.
Credit: Airbus

Electric- and hydrogen-powered aircraft have the potential to cover a significant part of the intra-European Union passenger market by 2040 but policymakers need to support the development of aircraft and infrastructure, a new report concludes.

The report by consultants Deloitte determines that almost 90% of intra-EU passenger flights in 2040 will fall into segments suited to zero-carbon electric and zero-emissions hydrogen aircraft. The report points out that deliveries are not expected to begin until 2035-40 and broad deployment could take 10 years.

The report suggests that by 2040, battery-electric aircraft should be capable of carrying 100-120 passengers distances up to 500 km (270 nm), while hydrogen fuel-cell aircraft should be able to carry 60-100 passengers up to 1,000 km. Hydrogen-combustion aircraft should be able to fly 100-180 passengers up to 2,000 km.

Of the almost 1.2 billion intra-EU passengers projected in 2040, 25% are expected to make flights of 500 km or less that could be served by battery-electric aircraft, Deloitte forecasts. Thirty-two percent of passengers will take flights of up to 1,000 km and another 32% will take flights of up to 2,000 km that could be served by hydrogen aircraft.

“Even with decreased flight range compared to conventional kerosene aircraft, these future aircraft have the potential to cover up to 89% of the intra-EU market in 2040, representing a potential climate impact reduction of up to 59%,” the report said. 

Deloitte also estimated the climate impact of competing modes of transport, finding that the CO2 emission per passenger-km for battery-electric aircraft would be competitive with electric rail and electric vehicles for trips of 500 km or less.

“Whereas the benefits of hydrogen-powered aircraft over other modes of transport for routes above 500 km is undeniable, distances below 500 km represent the most competitive segment for which both ground and air transport hold compelling benefits,” the report said.

Electric autonomous cars could become the most convenient mobility option for short distances, but road capacity will be a challenge, Deloitte suggested. A significant portion of travelers could shift to rail, but significant infrastructure investment would be required to raise capacity constraints.

“Battery-powered airplanes could represent a true game changer by offering a sustainable and fast travel option at attractive costs,” Deloitte concluded. The limited infrastructure required would boost development of a network of existing regional airports and offer seamless air travel, it added.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.


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