Airbus is increasingly confident it can create a hydrogen-powered plane within the next 15 years.
Chief executive Guillaume Faury said that 2035 was a “fair and realistic perspective” for the plane to be in service.
“We don’t need to change the laws of physics to go with hydrogen. Hydrogen has an energy density three times that of kerosene – [technically it] is made for aviation,” he said.
The airline industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Politicians and activists have been encouraging the industry to use the pandemic-enforced slump and rebound as a spur for adopting climate change policies.
Across the industry, companies want to cut the carbon footprint of planes and the people who fly in them.
About 60 companies in the aviation sector have pledged to increase the share of sustainable aviation fuels in the industry to 10 per cent by 2030.
A British Airways plane flew from London Heathrow to Glasgow Airport powered directly by sustainable aviation fuel for an ultra-low emissions flight.
But Airbus’s vision for hydrogen power, first reported by the Financial Times, is far more ambitious.
Speaking at an Airbus event in Toulouse, France, Mr Faury said state and regulatory support would be needed to make the dream a reality.
“This [decarbonisation] challenge is not only about an aircraft. It’s about having the right fuels – hydrogen – at the right time, at the right place, at the right price and that is not something that aviation can manage alone,” he said.
His comments indicate Airbus’s increasing confidence that the goal is within reach despite the technical challenges
Sabine Klauke, Airbus's chief technical officer, explained some of the hurdles, including that the hydrogen needs to be liquefied and stored at -253°C.
The double-skinned tanks needed to contain the substance are four times the size of conventional fuel storage, she said.
Climate change activists warn that the biggest issue is tackling medium and long-haul flights, where 73 per cent of the industry’s emissions originate, and that action is needed faster the hydrogen timeline.
“Time is of the essence and solutions that require replacing a trillion dollars' worth of aeroplanes and airport infrastructure with technology that won’t be mature for a decade or two won’t get you there,” said Alan Epstein, a professor of aeronautics.
David Joffe, of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, added: “We need solutions earlier than that.”