I’ve written previously about my role with the FlyZero project, which was looking to realise the UK’s ambition to develop a zero-carbon emission aircraft. Nearly a year on the project has reported its findings, which demonstrate the huge potential of green liquid hydrogen to power even long-haul aircraft.
The FlyZero project developed three aircraft concepts and considered the sustainability aspects of their manufacture and operation. We produced a series of studies considering the potential airspace, operational, and ground infrastructure requirements for hydrogen-powered aircraft and I am proud to have been the sole author of one of these reports and co-author of four others.
The project examined potential solutions and opportunities in air traffic management (ATM) systems to find ways of maximising operational efficiency and, as a consequence, maximise the benefit of zero-carbon technologies. Overall the project concluded that the FlyZero concepts and their performance characteristics do not display any attributes preventing their smooth integration within current as well as future planned ATM systems.
It is crucial to remember that every unit of energy used, and wasted, in flight must be produced on the ground at a very high energetic and economic cost. There will need to be a continued focus on making airspace as efficient as possible to help the aviation industry achieve its goal of Net Zero by 2050.
While it will take time for zero-carbon emission flights to become commonplace, the project’s ground-breaking work emphasised developments in ATM and aircraft operations. As all these solutions are equally applicable to kerosene-fuelled and hydrogen-powered aircraft, they could provide benefits in the short, medium and longer term. Many of these benefits will be achieved by airspace modernisation initiatives, such as free route concepts, systemisation, and the increased automation of flight services, all of which will allow more direct routes and reduce delays.
At the end of last year, we implemented our biggest domestic airspace change yet with the deployment of Free Route Airspace (FRA) above 25,000ft over Scotland and Northern Ireland, saving CO2 equal to the estimated carbon emissions of about 12,000 homes.
Over the next few years, further changes will simplify the airspace and make it easier for today’s aircraft to fly more direct routes. Quicker climbs to energy-efficient cruising altitudes and later descents will help reduce emissions and lay the foundations for hydrogen-fuelled aircraft and the integration of new airspace users.
The FlyZero project gathered more than 100 aviation and aerospace specialists from across the UK and, despite the demands of remote working, the team spirit and strong collaboration led to great results for the project and for the individuals who took part. I also used this time as an opportunity for personal development, especially to learn more about aviation’s environmental impact and the sustainability of flight operations. Acting as an ambassador for NATS I was able to interact with airline and airport representatives and discuss how future aviation can ensure efficient travel and lower CO2 emissions with big industry players such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Eurocontrol.
NATS continues to work with airports and other stakeholders to future-proof our skies and we’re committed to playing a crucial role in helping to achieve net zero.
FlyZero project reports are now publicly available and can be found on the Aerospace Technology Institute website.
FlyZero is an independent, non-commercial project that aims to share its findings and recommendations with the wider UK aerospace sector with the aim of supporting the UK to stand at the forefront of sustainable aviation in design, manufacture, technology and skills for years to come. FlyZero’s vision is to realise zero-carbon emission commercial flight by the end of the decade. Decarbonising aviation is a remarkable prospect and NATS is proud to support this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity created by FlyZero. https://www.ati.org.uk/flyzero/
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