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Clean Aviation for a Competitive Green Recovery in Europe

23 April 2021

Bold investment is needed to steer aviation firmly on a course towards climate neutrality by 2050, Clean Sky’s Spring Event, Clean Aviation for a Competitive Green Recovery in Europe, heard.

Clean Sky’s Executive Director, Axel Krein, opened the event, and highlighted that “the path ahead is a major challenge.” He advocated for a “moon-shot approach with huge research and development efforts”. The event was moderated by Bernice Notenboom, a climate explorer and journalist.

Adina Vălean, the European Commissioner for Transport, had a hopeful message. She recognised that “we are faced with a formidable challenge” but said that “recovery is a primary focus; recovery is an opportunity to change. If we want to reach climate neutrality by 2050 we have to start now with the development of carbon-neutral aircraft.”

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Significant investment needed to hit climate neutrality target

Two key themes emerged from the conference as a whole – the issues of time and cost. There was general agreement that the decarbonisation of the aviation industry is absolutely possible, but that significant investment is needed immediately if the 2050 climate neutrality target is to be reached.

“We have a huge challenge ahead of us which is to decarbonise this industry,” said Guillaume Faury, the CEO of Airbus. “Aviation is in my view the mode of transport of the future. But we have a carbon challenge and we want to take the bull by the horns. We don’t have much time. We need support.”

Olivier Andriès, the CEO of Safran, said that “the crisis has exacerbated problems that existed before” but also that he believed that “Europe has the willingness and the talent to be the number one climate-neutral continent by 2050.”

Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa Group, said that sustainable aviation fuels “represent a solution with enormous potential” and highlighted the necessity of ensuring equal access to passenger transport hubs. He put forward an interesting idea for raising the funds needed to spur investment in green aviation: “Let’s take all the taxes coming from industry and use it for research and innovation,” he said.

Olivier Jankovec, the Director-General of ACI (Airports Council International) Europe said that “it’s a tremendous challenge and there’s no magic wand,” and advocated for “thinking outside the box”. He said that there was a need to be disruptive and that a regulatory and financial framework was crucial, as well as highlighting the important role of sustainable aviation fuel in decarbonising the aviation sector.

Sustainability as the new driver for growth in aviation

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, outlined the difficulties that have been experienced by the aviation sector thanks to Covid, and also urged that disruption and innovation are needed in order for European industry to “stay ahead of the technological race.”

“The Clean Aviation Partnership will contribute to this disruption,” he said. “I believe that even more could be done.”

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The second panel continued with the theme of competition.

Alessandro Profumo, the CEO of Leonardo and President of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) said, “Sustainability is going to be the key driver of growth for aviation. Our industry will need to be able to improve – the pandemic has changed the landscape entirely.”

The Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education was represented by Prof. Eduardo Maldonado, who said:

“We believe that the results that have been produced over the years speak for themselves and [Clean Sky] is certainly an initiative that deserves to be supported and continued. Aviation is and will continue to be run by a small number of large firms. Beyond that we have a big number of SMEs, universities and research centres that can provide novel solutions for all of us. This is very important for the future of Clean Sky and Horizon Europe,” he said.

Ana Villate, the Managing Director of the Basque Aerospace Cluster (HEGAN), said, “We cannot suddenly stop travelling by plane.” She highlighted that this is a particularly difficult period for SMEs working in aviation, and outlined the importance of searching for opportunities.

MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu highlighted the importance of research and innovation going forwards. He also mentioned that the European Parliament would review legislation on the Clean Aviation Programme in May and Prof. Eduardo Maldonado said that the Portuguese Presidency intended to finalise this during their term.

Peter Javorčík, Director-General of Transport, Energy, Environment and Education at the Council of the European Union, noted that once the legislation is passed, then the real work begins!

He said: “The reduction of emissions will not be achieved by political statements,”, but through action; and he also outlined the importance of improving synergies between national and EU level policies for investment in innovation.

Ambitious goals for Clean Aviation

pict-9The final panel focused on how to lead innovation for sustainable aviation. CTOs from Airbus, Safran, Liebherr, and Rolls-Royce as well as the Chair of DLR’s Executive Board joined the Clean Sky’s Head of Programme, Sebastien Dubois, to discuss key technologies and innovations under development in their various companies as part of Clean Sky 2.

Grazia Vittadini, CTO of Airbus said, “air travel is a lifeline for our economy, society and global recovery – industry must play a key role!” She predicts that the Clean Aviation programme will be even more ambitious than Clean Sky, saying: “The Clean Aviation programme is taking it all up a notch. We want to demonstrate the technical and economical viability for new aircraft solutions.”

Stéphane Cueille, CTO of Safran, had an optimistic view of the future of sustainable aviation: “Overall, I feel positive – if we pool the public and private sectors to work together, we can keep alive the dream of flying by making it sustainable!"

Francis Carla, CTO of Liebherr, said: "A big challenge is to mature and implement new technology without risk," and urged the audience to be aware of how long it takes for a technology to go from concept to market-ready.

Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla of DLR agreed, saying “there’s a lot to do and it’s an exciting time!” She spoke about the role of research centres in developing the innovative technologies needed for sustainable aviation. “We bring our knowledge from aerospace and our knowledge from other sectors,” she said. “This accelerates our research towards our common goal of sustainable aviation.”

Paul Stein of Rolls-Royce reminded the panel of the size of the challenge ahead and the importance of developing disruptive innovation outside of just the aviation sector, for example, developing hydrogen technology.

“We’re almost in danger of underestimating how big a task this is,” he said. “But this is a really exciting time for aviation as we build back better post-COVID. There’s a clear role for Clean Aviation – to bring all our concepts and innovations together!”

Jean-Eric Paquet, the Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate of Research and Innovation, gave a positive message: “I’m impressed by the EU aviation industry is now coming together, including the research organisations and knowledge across our SME and innovation ecosystems to bring Europe’s industry into a clean future. I think Europe now has a head start and my expectation is very much that the Clean Aviation Partnership really allows us to ensure that we keep this head start. You can count on DG Research and Innovation to help you… to set up the new Partnership!”

Finally, Axel Krein closed the event. Clean Sky’s results have shown great promise to date and we look forward to realising the goal of climate-neutral aviation in Europe by 2050 as part of the new European Partnership for Clean Aviation!