Aviation becoming environment-friendlier

23 January 2024
SERIES (2) on Industries in Hamburg: Hamburg Aviation making flying more sustainable through global cooperation

Decarbonising aviation again topped the agenda of the National Aviation Conference in Hamburg in October 2023. And m,aking aviation climate-neutral is feasible, experts in commerce, technology and politics agreed. Green fuel or so-called "Sustainable Aviation Fuel" (SAF) offers a glimmer of hope for slashing CO2 in aviation. Today's aircraft run on up to 50 per cent SAF without conversion. Volker Ratzmann, a member of the Climate Neutral Aviation Working Group, called for a “move from piloting to industrial production” as “the technology is known and controllable." However, it will be some time before the new fuel is available in sufficient quantities, experts agreed.

Green hydrogen in aviation

"Hamburg is pulling out all the stops to decarbonise aviation. Green hydrogen holds great potential. Preparations are in full swing to ready aircraft and airports for the new fuel," says Angus Baigent, Marketing & PR Manager at Hamburg Aviation. Airbus has also announced plans to launch a hydroged-fuelled aircraft by 2035. And in late November, Hamburg Airport and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) presented a roadmap for setting up hydrogen infrastructure at medium-sized airports. "The partners have come to the conclusion that hydrogen could save 60 million tons of CO2 from Hamburg by 2050," said Baigent.


Hydrogen Aviation Lab

Gaining experience with liquid hydrogen

Hamburg Airport is also pressing ahead and has announced plans to open test routes for hydrogen-fuelled aircraft by 2026. And applied research also centers on  H2: the Hydrogen Aviation Lab, which is funded by the City of Hamburg, with emphasis on liquid hydrogen. "We need to gain experience and develop solutions so that we can use this promising fuel in aviation as quickly as possible. Hamburg is at the forefront of these endeavours. Today, we are already working on flying with green hydrogen in future," said a delighted Baigent.

A321XLR opening brand new possibilities

Apart from  hydrogen and SAF, renewing fleets are also an important means of saving CO2 swiftly. "Aircraft such as Airbus's new A321XLR are replacing older, 'thirstier' aircraft." Thanks to engine and aerodynamic improvements, the latest member of the A320 family consumes an average 30 per cent less fuel per seat over previous aircraft. It also has an improved range and payload as the A321 XLR can fly up to 8,700 kilometres. "Flying from Hamburg to Alaska or India without a stopover is now possible," Baigent pointed out, adding: "The outstanding thing about the A321XLR is that routes that cannot be served profitably with wide-body aircraft such as the A350 from medium-sized airports like Hamburg can now be flown economically. That makes the A321XLR attractive for airports like Hamburg because airlines have new opportunities to fly to long-haul destinations from there."

A321 XLR with "Water Enhanced Turbofan" at the National Aviation Conference

Sustainable, state-of-the-art assembly hall

Demand for the A321 XLR is high, Baigent stressed. "We already have over 500 orders from 26 customers." Around half of the aircraft will be finally assembled in Hamburg, which is a great boost. In August 2023, Airbus opened another state-of-the-art assembly hall in Finkenwerder. "The new hall is in response to the great demand and in preparation for new schemes," said Baigent. Planned and built sustainably,  a 3,000 square metre solar system supplies the hall with electricity. Any surplus power is passed onto the grid on site.

New synergies thanks to ECARE

"As one of the world's largest aviation clusters, Hamburg also plays a key role in co-ordinating international co-operation," Baigent stressed, as improved co-ordination on European and global level is needed to achieve climate targets faster. "Thus, the cluster network is involved in the ECARE project, the European Clean Aviation Regional Ecosystem, which is backed by the EU's Clean Aviation scheme. A budget of EUR 1.7 billion makes it Europe's largest sustainable aviation scheme," he added. ECARE evaluates research projects in Europe to come up with new synergies and to link up various regional research schemes and make them more effective. "The integration of European, national and regional schemes could be crucial to transforming aviation and away from fossil fuels. Time is running out and resources are limited. We need to maximise this and see international co-operation as an important part of the solution," Baigent stressed.

Angus Baigent, Manager Marketing & PR at Hamburg Aviation

GATE making aviation more sustainable

Hamburg Aviation also backs various regional research schemes in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. Launched in 2021, the Green Aviation Technologies (GATE) funding scheme now comprises six projects focusing on sustainable aviation. "Designed and carried out mainly by SMEs and research institutions, the scheme focuses on progress in wide-ranging areas - from cabin acoustics and recyclable aircraft seats to powertrains and hydrogen leakage," said Baigent. The latter are the focus of the Hydroleak project. Although hydrogen as a fuel is considered groundbreaking in aviation, it is highly volatile and explosive. Thus, stringent safety measures are needed. The project uses artificial intelligence and digital twins to prevent leaks in tanks.

Windrove network for commercial use of drones

Drones and air taxis will also be allowed to use Hamburg's airspace in future and the city has founded the Windrove network to this end. "Based at Hamburg Aviation, the network is the point of contact for the various stakeholders in urban air mobility community (UAM) across the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. The network promotes open and solution-oriented talks on safe, fair and environment-friendly use of commercial UAV applications," Baigent said. Naturally, sustainability is high on its agenda. "LiquiDrone, which aims to realise a liquid hydrogen (FH2)-powered UAV and test it in flight, is just one of Windrove's many exciting research projects."

Forward-looking drone technology 

Many UAM applications could potentially replace car journeys or helicopter flights, Baigent stressed. "Interesting examples include inspections, missions by authorities and organisations with security tasks, or deliveries of time-critical medicines." UAM applications may become economically interesting and even save lives in future.


Read the other parts in our series:

1) EEHH keeping a close eye on energy transition

Sources and further information

Hamburg Aviation

Hamburg Aviation is the Hamburg Metropolitan Region's aviation cluster. The association of business, science and politics networks all the stakeholders in the industry, supports the development of skilled labour, expands the transfer of knowledge and improves the economic framework conditions. In addition to the three anchor companies, Airbus, Lufthansa Technik and Hamburg Airport, the stakeholders include more than 300 other companies with over 40,000 employees. Together, they cover the entire life cycle of an aircraft and aviation value chain.

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