Paris Air Show

Aviation Sustainability Takes New Urgency in Paris

 - June 19, 2019, 10:32 AM

Sustainability is playing a major role during this year’s Paris Air Show (PAS) as the global aviation market expresses an increasing recognition that new technologies, biofuels, and operational procedures must become more environmentally friendly. “We think it [is] clear the Paris Air Show is displaying something completely new,” said analyst Jefferies.

Jefferies earlier had identified the environment as a new risk to aircraft deliveries, alongside conflict and trade war. "We felt something had changed" and wondered whether that would be evident at the Paris Air Show, the firm said.

And it began with the opening Airbus press conference with Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury saying, “We must find a way to decarbonize aviation. This is for our generation to do. It’s expected of us by the flying public and by society.”

The universal sentiment led to the chief technology officers (CTOs) from seven of the world’s major aviation manufacturers to issue a joint statement on the second day of the Paris show: “Climate change has become a clear concern for our society. Humanity’s impact on the climate requires action on many fronts,” they said.

The CTOs reiterated the aviation industry’s global commitment to reduce CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050 and to limit net growth by 2020.

Separately at the Paris Air Show, 23 industry leaders, research organization and university associations in Europe on Wednesday signed a Joint Declaration of European Aviation Research Stakeholders Related to Clean Aviation in Horizon Europe, stating a commitment to a future European partnership to help with the decarbonization of aviation and build on progress made under the Clean Sky programs. Among the signatories were Faury, Safran CEO Philippe Petitcolin, Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East, and Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo.

Onera Dragon
Onera Dragon (Photo: Mark Wagner)

They called on the European Commission, Parliament, and Council to finalize a framework for the partnership and provide funding to develop, mature and demonstrate requisite technologies. The global aviation leaders, meanwhile, pointed to efforts well under way to reach their collective environmental goals, including the 2019 implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

This push is also evident throughout the business decisions companies are making. In announcing plans to acquire Siemens’ eAircraft business, Rolls-Royce executives on Tuesday pointed out that air transportation accounts for only 2 percent of worldwide emissions from fossil fuels.

But even so, that is still 2 percent of 32,314 million tonnes of CO2 emitted annually. The acquisition will give Rolls-Royce a significant foothold in the emerging market for electric airplanes, as Siemens is already providing powerplants for numerous platforms.

Sustainability is driving Boeing’s decision to invest in technologies such as electric aircraft, Steve Nordlund, v-p and general manager for Boeing NeXt—the company’s division for urban, regional, and global mobility—added on Tuesday. He said Boeing is looking at a suite of possibilities from biofuels to hybrid-electric engines and all-electric vehicles. That was on display this year as Boeing brought its autonomous Passenger Air Vehicle electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) to the Paris show.

DLR Distributed  Electric Propulsion
DLR Distributed Electric Propulsion (Photo: Mark Wagner)

These emerging technologies garnered considerable attention, from the debut of the magniX all-electric propulsion systems to the debut of the Eviation Alice electric commuter aircraft, along with displays of VoltAero’s Cassio I and Airbus’s Vahana. "Operating at a fraction of the costs of conventional jetliners, our Alice will redefine how people travel regionally and usher in a new era of flying that is quieter, cleaner and cost-effective,"  said Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay. "With the introduction of Alice, we welcome an all-new breed of airplanes for the first time in 50 years and it is only the beginning of a bright future for electric aviation and sustainable transportation."

This is an area attracting substantial investment from both emerging and well-established companies. Bell CEO Mitch Snyder also said on Tuesday the company is focusing on the VTOL market as it maps out decisions for new products.

Safran unveiled a full range of electrical systems during at Le Bourget, from its GENeUs lines of smart generators and batters to its power management system and motors—highlighting a range of options for eVTOLs.

Beyond all-electric, hybrid-electric also has been at the forefront. Bell is initially proceeding with a hybrid VTOL given the challenges that still exist with battery power, Snyder said. GE Aviation president and CEO David Joyce said on Monday he was bullish on the future of hybrid technology and reiterated the engine-maker’s commitment to research. However, he believes much work still remains ahead on the battery side of the equation to reach the proper weight ratios.

Boeing PAV
Boeing PAV (Photo: David McIntosh)

The younger generation of workers is propelling these efforts, added Daniel Moczydlower, senior v-p of engineering and technology for Embraer, during an Embraer innovation panel held Wednesday. “Their commitment to sustainability is huge,” Moczydlower said. “They expect it from the company at all levels.”

Beyond electric, executives are looking to nearer-term solutions. ATR recently obtained an independent opinion from environmental researcher Vigeo Eiris that its line of turboprop aircraft is eligible for green financing, ATR CEO Stefano Bortoli said Wednesday, stressing his company's commitment to sustainability.

Gulfstream continued its commitment to biofuels, flying its G650, G550, and G280 to the Paris show on a sustainable aviation biofuel blend.

In its analysis, Jeffries conceded that it had concerns that the environmental push was more a focus in Europe, but concluded, “that is patently not the case.” The show of unity on the issue might prevent CORSIA from faltering, the analyst said, expressing the belief that the scheme is essential to avoiding “dislocation through unilateral action.”

But the analyst remains concerned about the future if progress is not made. “We are not convinced that risk or threat has gone away, nor sure how big the risk or threat might be.”