Three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035 have been unveiled by Airbus.

They rely on hydrogen as a primary power source and each represent a different approach to achieving zero-emission flights.

This is an option which the European manufacturer believes holds “exceptional promise” as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets.

The three concepts – all codenamed “ZEROe” – for a first climate neutral zero-emission commercial aircraft include:

  • A “blended-wing body” design concept (pictured) capable of carrying up to 200 passengers in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan option. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.
  • A turbofan design with a range of 2,000 nautical miles carrying 120 to 200 passengers, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.
  • A turboprop design carrying up to 100 passengers using a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, which would be capable of flying more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it an option for short-haul trips.

Airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refueling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations, Airbus conceded.

Support from governments “will be key” to meet the ambitious objectives with increased funding for research and technology, digitalisation and mechanisms that encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally friendly aircraft earlier.

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said: “This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen.

“The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight.

“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”

He added: “These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035.

“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem.

“Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”