Recent reports have suggested that Airbus may be looking to its giant double-decker A380 to test out hydrogen tanks for its next-generation airliner. The manufacturer is backing hydrogen as its clean fuel of the future as the industry takes steps to address its commitment to the planet.
While British Airways CEO Sean Doyle recently revealed that sustainable aviation fuels are currently the only reasonable solution to addressing emissions, the airline is in a partnership to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft. This is the approach also being pursued by industry giant Airbus, which is looking beyond today at the future of aviation.
Using the Airbus A380?
Two weeks ago, Airbus revealed that it was launching centers in both Bremen, Germany, and Nantes, France, to pursue the development of zero-emissions propulsion. Both of the centers are planned to be up and running by 2023, with the aim of building liquid hydrogen tanks for aircraft. The tanks must be able to hold the fuel at temperatures of -250 degrees centigrade.
Airbus has already planned the first flight of the liquid hydrogen tanks for some time in 2025. However, the manufacturer is yet to reveal which aircraft will be used for flight tests. Despite this, initial reports suggest that it may be the giant of the skies, loved by passengers the world over.
French language publication Les Echos reveals that Airbus will use the A380 for such test flights. This is echoed by the German language publication aeroTELEGRAPH, who reported that the giant of the skies already reportedly has an engine capable of running on hydrogen.
On the topic, an Airbus spokesperson told Simple Flying,
“We have recently created two Zero-Emission Development Centres (ZEDC) in Bremen (Germany) and in Nantes (France) to design H2 tank structures. Various options are being assessed for the flight test platform with a decision planned over the next 2 years.”
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Why the Airbus A380 makes sense
Across the industry, two engines are generally considered to be better than four, leading partially to the fall of the Boeing 747, Airbus A340, and A380. However, when it comes to testing aircraft, four engines are better than two. This is because the whole point of testing aircraft engines is to establish their reliability, alongside other things.
With only two engines on a test aircraft, the plane is left with a single source of power if the engine being tested were to fail. Conversely, on a four-engined plane, three engines would remain. This is why General Electric uses the Boeing 747 for engine tests.
While not recommended, three engines on a Boeing 747 are enough to get across the Atlantic Ocean. For example, in 2005, a British Airways Boeing 747 made it from Los Angeles International Airport to Manchester Airport on three engines after an engine was lost on takeoff.
According to data from ch-aviation.com, Airbus currently has two four-engined planes in its test fleet. The Airbus A380 seems the preferable choice for engine tests, as the only other aircraft, an Airbus A340-300, has already been modified for the BLADE laminar flow wing demonstrator.
Of course, Airbus always has the option of purchasing an ex-airline aircraft, as Rolls-Royce recently did with an ex-Qantas Boeing 747. With the end of the A380 program upon us, it seems the A380 already operated by Airbus won’t be needed for much else, so it could find a second purpose in testing this new technology.
Which aircraft should Airbus use to test its hydrogen power systems? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!