While they are actively developing technologies for hydrogen, Airbus doesn’t think that it will see widespread use on airliners before 2050.

Airbus: Hydrogen Won’t See Widespread Use Before 2050

The early 2035 hydrogen Airbus will likely be an ATR turboprop replacement.

The 2050 estimate comes from a presentation on hydrogen and other technologies, that Airbus made for European Union officials. Airbus reiterated their intention to develop a hydrogen-powered airliner from 2035. However they clarified that this will be a regional aircraft, with relatively short range.

Previously, the manufacturer hinted that their next all-new airliner will use hydrogen. This now appears less likely. European officials were hoping to see studies for a hydrogen-powered A320 replacement, from 2033-35. Airbus’ 2050 estimate for widespread hydrogen usage seems to exclude this possibility. Airbus also has ATR under its wing. And based on this information, the ATR-42/72 seem like a better fit for the 2035 hydrogen aircraft.

What a stretch Airbus A322 might look like.

At the same time, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury stated that the company’s near-term focus is on evolving current jet designs. As we have seen, the company is seriously thinking of ‘re-winging’ the A320 family. While an ‘A321plus-plus’ or ‘A322’ is getting most of the attention, an A320.5 is just as keyin the single-aisle market, if not more. An A350 cargo variant would also fall under the evolutionary banner. This moves an all-new hydrogen A320 replacement towards 2050.


Airbus Meets Boeing On 2050 Hydrogen Estimate?

What is interesting here is that the 2050 timeline for hydrogen puts Airbus at a similar position with Boeing. Dave Calhoun, the American manufacturer’s CEO, recently stated that hydrogen won’t see use on a significant scale before 2050. This is consistent with previous statements earlier this year, that put emphasis on Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).

Airbus: Hydrogen Won’t See Widespread Use Before 2050

Airbus is also putting increased emphasis on SAF usage. They flew an A350 on 100% SAF in March – mirroring a similar Boeing flight in 2018, with a 777 freighter. The compatibility of SAF with existing aircraft, while burning cleaner than existing fuels, makes it quite attractive. However developing a workable supply chain for it, at reasonable cost, is still a challenge.

Just yesterday, we saw that Airbus is working with Safran and Daher on a distributed propulsion system. While the test aircraft will be hybrid-electric, the propulsion technology will apply to a propeller-driven hydrogen fuel-cell aircraft. This and other projects seem to corroborate Airbus’ commitment to a 2035 hydrogen turboprop – even if 2050 seems far away to many.

Airbus: Hydrogen Won’t See Widespread Use Before 2050

Image: Airbus

Also, recent information reveals that Airbus and Air France-KLM probed EU officials for green stimulus funds to support aircraft replacements. Their reasoning is that newer generations of aircraft can be 14-16% more efficient than existing models. So a widespread fleet renewal could have substantial environmental benefits. Such a move is unlikely to find much support, however. And besides, it would send the wrong message to the US, given attempts to end the EU-US tariff war for good!