Aircraft manufacturers are under increasing pressure to build more environmentally friendly models with engines that are as CO₂-free as possible. At the air show in Farnborough, UK, Airbus announced a spectacular series of tests.
To put it simply, a special propeller drive is mounted on the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the A380. One of the four jet engines will be replaced by the new engine.
The measurement results should further optimize the technology. Specifically, it is the so-called open-rotor technology, which is now considered to be particularly economical in terms of fuel consumption thanks to new developments.
The major engine manufacturer CFM, a 50:50 joint venture between General Electric (USA) and Safran (France), presented the eco-concept last year under the term Rise (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines).
It is a mixture of a jet and a propeller engine. The basic idea is that the large fan at the engine tip rotates openly like a large propeller and is not protectively encased.
The open rotor idea is around 40 years old and, despite various tests, has long since been declared dead. The noise level in particular was considered a problem. But CFM believes that it has found the right technological approach so that the engine will be in series production around 2035. Possibly also in an electric hybrid concept.
Airbus is now taking the lead in open rotor testing, using an A380 model as an in-flight test lab. Testing is scheduled to begin in the second half of the decade at the Airbus test site in Toulouse, southern France. Prior to that, soil tests will be carried out in California.
According to a press release, fuel consumption and thus CO₂ emissions are to be reduced by 20 percent. In addition, the engine should work 100 percent with sustainable aviation fuels.
However, the eco-fuel is currently only available in small quantities and at significantly higher prices than kerosene. Airbus Chief Technology Officer Sabine Klauke explains that new propulsion concepts will play an important role in achieving aviation’s net-zero goals.
Airbus itself is under pressure, because the group wants to present its first zero-emission aircraft itself in 2035. Various concepts are examined for this purpose. Airbus boss Guillaume Faury had warned in the context of the Farnborough air show against exaggerated expectations of the size of the zero-emission aircraft. There will not yet be a replacement for the best-selling A320 family.
There will certainly not be a giant Airbus A380 with an open rotor drive either. Europe’s aircraft manufacturer has stopped production of the aircraft and dismantled facilities, even though numerous airlines are currently putting the large aircraft back into service after the Corona flight break. Including Lufthansa.
As an Airbus spokeswoman told WELT, there will be two A380s in the future as test aircraft for new propulsion technology. In addition to the open rotor test version, Airbus announced hydrogen tests on an A380 in February. From 2026, a small fifth engine for hydrogen fuel will be mounted on the rear part of the fuselage of an A380. This engine also comes from the manufacturer CFM.
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