Airbus A380 taking off on its maiden flight 20190214
Airbus SE will use an A380 superjumbo to test its first hydrogen propulsion system. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Airbus SE will use an A380 superjumbo to test its first hydrogen propulsion system, as the planemaker works toward introduction of a new passenger aircraft running on the fuel by 2035.

The demonstration aircraft will be developed in collaboration with engine-maker CFM International, Airbus announced Tuesday in an online press conference. The modified double-decker will maintain its four conventional gas turbines, while a fifth engine, adapted for hydrogen use, will be mounted on the rear fuselage.

Bloomberg reported Monday that Airbus was poised to announce the collaboration with CFM, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA.

While hydrogen is still under research for use in jet engines, Airbus is attempting to rally the aviation industry behind the technology as it faces mounting pressure to reduce emissions that lead to global warming. Last year, the airline industry's main trade group endorsed a plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

"To achieve these goals by 2050 the industry has to take action now and we are," said Gael Meheust, CFM's chief executive officer.

Flight Plan

The demonstrator is set to begin flying in the middle of this decade. While a commercial product will be much smaller, the development plan allows Airbus to take advantage of the A380's size to give engineers room for extra tanks, testing equipment, and the fifth engine at the back, executives said.

Airbus rival Boeing Co. is testing hydrogen fuel cells on its ScanEagle3 pilotless military drone, while expressing skepticism about the 2035 target for commercial jetliners.

The initiative with CFM doesn't mark a firm commitment to any one engine partner or technology, people familiar with the matter said earlier. Airbus has been working with other suppliers as well to assess options for emissions-free flying.

Safran has called hydrogen a "promising candidate" for future aircraft models, and has been developing materials and fuel-system adjustments to be used with the technology.

New Market

With manufacturers gearing up to ultimately make the shift to zero-emission flying, enginemakers GE, Safran, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc will all compete for a share of the new market.

Rolls-Royce, which currently specializes in widebody engines, has said it is now considering a return to the single-aisle market and is speaking to both planemakers about possible opportunities. Pratt, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp., said Monday that it received U.S. Department of Energy funding to further its work on hydrogen propulsion.

GE and Safran have teamed up to develop new engines with an open fan architecture, with propellers instead of the more-common enclosed blades. The new engines would be compatible with conventional fuels and sustainable alternatives including hydrogen.

CFM may have an edge due to the French state's financing of hydrogen development, FlightGlobal reported in December. France is the largest investor in Toulouse-based Airbus and in Paris-based Safran.