Can hydrogen-powered flight trigger a reset for global travel?

The transport sector needs a technology revolution that completely changes not just the way it operates but our whole attitude to getting from place to place. Hydrogen-based aircraft could be the answer.

New confidence in hydrogen is growing with Project Fresson, a partnership between the Aerospace Technology Institute, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK, run by CAeS. More than blue-sky thinking on hydrogen-powered flight, this initiative is about delivering commercially viable services in the short-term: the world’s first truly green passenger-carrying services. Making use of its 25 years’ experience of working with OEMs on both design and certification of new aircraft, CAeS is developing a hydrogen powertrain solution for a nine-passenger Britten-Norman Islander aircraft, as well as looking at business models and overcoming any capability and supply chain issues. Project Fresson expects the hydrogen aircraft to be in service for short hops by 2025.

One of the biggest challenges we face is in the lack of certification rules for hydrogen-based aviation. Current standards don’t apply. Complex modifications to aircraft (and to how airports manage hydrogen as an aviation fuel) are necessary, meaning a need for the Civil Aviation Authority to be an active partner in the journey, to make sense of what is applicable and what is not fit for purpose. We need to keep pushing the case for certification forwards with proof of technology: there’s no time to wait if Jet Zero targets are ever going to be achievable.

Regular long-haul trips using hydrogen still look some way off, but are well within reach. Perhaps we won’t be able to fly from London to Perth directly in a zero-emissions aircraft, but this raises questions about why we need large ultra-long-haul aircraft anyway. It’s an environment-damaging extravagance and just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Again, we need to be thinking about the big picture of transport, what’s viable and what works.

We can quickly become used to a new convention, hopping our way around the world using a sustainable system of journeys made smooth and easy by digitised operations, being less obsessive and frantic about saving time. Wouldn’t travel become a richer experience?

Read the full article here on Engineering & Technology, published 12th October 2021…