easyJet Is Deciding Between Hydrogen And Electric Aircraft Options

Electric and hydrogen aircraft are set to make significant waves in air travel in the coming years. As an aviation powerhouse, easyJet is looking at solutions in both of these fields. The carrier’s CEO, Johan Lundgren, spoke about his company’s options ahead of the Airbus Summit in Toulouse last month.

easyJet has great expectations for the future of its industry, but it’s taking a careful approach to the transformation process. Photo: Airbus

Getting the ball rolling

The British airline has high hopes for a cleaner aviation industry. Carriers across the globe have goals to reach net-zero by 2050, and carbon offsetting is a key tactic in this approach. Impressively, easyJet already took a massive stride with this aspect two years ago by becoming the first major carrier worldwide to offset all of its carbon emissions from the fuel that it uses.

Nonetheless, the carbon offsetting scheme is only a temporary solution, something that easyJet recognizes. The carrier understands in order to genuinely conduct sustainable operations, the deployment of modern aircraft with different resources needs to occur.

With this factor in mind, easyJet is mulling over its options ahead of the next generation of air travel. While there is plenty of potential in different scenes, it’s too early to make a conclusion

“Airbus has been focusing quite a lot on the hydrogen solution. We are dedicated to working with Airbus on that. But, I also think it’s important to say that it is not correct at this moment in time to kind of choose a winner out of the technologies. There are also developments in electric aircraft.” Lundgren shared with reporters before the Airbus Summit.

“But I think the importance of talking about those qualities is so critical. I know that since we went on to the journey about particularly electric …When I met (electric aircraft) decision-makers in 2017, the knowledge about these things was very little. People who were supposed to know what these technologies meant and what they could do had very little idea about that. So, that’s why it’s good that there is a forum where this can be debated and explored further.”

A balance required

Altogether, easyJet is firmly behind the development of new technologies, including hybrid, electric, and hydrogen planes. As a result, it’s working directly with manufacturers to proactively bring a more sustainable industry. These actions are supported by additional moves such as reducing carbon waste and single-use plastic.

The airline sees great prospects across the three future aircraft solutions. These technologies could do wonders across the company’s short-haul network. When it comes to the longer ranges, easyJet feels that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will be the best answer until the other fields start to mature. The firm is also looking at carbon capture technologies to run alongside the deployment of SAF.

easyJet Berlin Getty
All Airbus aircraft are currently certified to run on a 50% SAF blend, and the firm hopes to scale this number up to 100% by the time the 2030s arrive. Photo: Getty Images

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The current contenders

easyJet’s split attention between electric and hydrogen is clear to see. The airline has been communicating with Wright Electric amid the American startup’s development of its all-electric 186-seater Wright 1.

The Wright 1 is a single-aisle plane being developed for carriers on routes that cover up to 700 NM (1290 km). The company behind it is looking to offer zero-carbon operations, low fuel costs, and quiet and fast takeoffs with the plane. Ultimately, a 1.5 MW motor is set to bring greater sustainability to the regional market with this project.

Wright Electric was founded five years ago and has been collaborating with easyJet to help transition flight operations. Photo: Wright Electric

Meanwhile, the carrier has a strategic partnership with Airbus, looking to help introduce the ZEROe hydrogen plane. Airbus is looking to develop the world’s first zero-emissions commercial aircraft by 2035 with this project.

The ZEROe program is divided between three concepts. The turboprop edition is being looked at with two hydrogen hybrid engines o transport up to 100 passengers over 1,000 NM. Along with this, the blended-wing body and turbofan concepts are billed to transport up to 200 passengers to up to 2,000 NM.

The right fit

With easyJet’s network primarily focused within Europe, a sizeable percentage of its services could be conducted by the Wright 1 or the turbofan ZEROe. As hydrogen technologies continue to grow to offer greater range capabilities, then the more ambitious ZEROe variants could do the job on the longer distances.

easyJet’s A319, A320ceo and A321neo aircraft all offer the same or less capacity than the Wright 1. However, the turbofan ZEROe doesn’t meet near the same figure as these popular narrowbodies.

It is likely that the turbofan would be the one that would enter the market first. So, it could be a while longer before standard narrowbody operators make the jump to switch their jets to the ZEROe. Regardless, it’s positive to see that there are high hopes for both electric and hydrogen aircraft by the time the next decade is in full swing.

Airbus is keen to conduct operations in a net-zero ecosystem in the coming decades, and the planemaker is looking for its ZEROe program to help achieve this. Photo: Airbus

easyJet is taking a holistic approach. Along with the research into propulsion and fuel, it’s looking at conservation, environmental management systems, and engagement methods to cover ground across the board.

All in all, it’s too early to determine what the best solution is for consistently sustainable air travel. Like easyJet’s leadership states, it’s likely that a combination of a few technologies provide the requirements in the next chapter.

What is clear is that stakeholders across aviation are determined to operate in a greener manner, and easyJet is intent on supporting this target. However, the operator has called for greater unity from other stakeholders and governments to help it on its mission.

What are your thoughts about easyJet’s plans for electric and hydrogen aircraft? Also, what do you make of the overall objectives of the airline? Let us know what you think of these technologies and their prospects in the comment section.