Aviation industry eyes bill for hydrogen upgrades – EURACTIV.com

The EU aviation sector is preparing to deploy electric and hydrogen-powered planes, which manufacturers say will hit the markets by 2035. But who would have to pay for the costly infrastructure upgrades needed to maintain these aircraft is a controversial issue for the industry.

While electric planes shouldn’t require major infrastructural changes to recharge, the production, transport and storage of hydrogen poses a bigger challenge.

Hydrogen must be kept at extremely low temperatures to remain in liquid form: around -252 degrees Celsius. It is also larger than kerosene, which means significant storage facilities will be required.

For electric planes, the charging proposition is simpler: in addition to electric charging connections, airports will likely store batteries on-site, allowing airlines to immediately replace the spent battery with a charged one, shortening the lead time. of execution.

These storage demands are in addition to the capacity needed to store kerosene and EU-mandated green jet fuels, which will still be used until at least 2050.

The total cost of refurbishing airports across the bloc is expected to be in the billions.

EU lawmakers have been hesitant to propose binding targets for hydrogen and electricity charging facilities for airports, given the lack of certainty about how the technology will develop. Instead, they left it to member states to develop their own infrastructure plans for clean aviation.

Invoice splitting

The extent to which taxpayers, airports, fuel producers, aircraft manufacturers and airlines should bear the cost of upgrades is an open debate.

Airline lobby group A4E has floated the idea of ​​using funds from the Connecting Europe Facility, which supports cross-border transport links in the bloc. However, it remains to be seen whether this will gain political support.

While airports are obvious candidates to incur the necessary capital expenditure, airlines are pushing for greater regulatory scrutiny of investment, fearing airport charges will rise dramatically.

Aircraft operators currently pay to use airports through take-off and landing charges, which are regulated by the EU Airport Charges Directive. But a costly infrastructure upgrade will inevitably drive up costs as the airport seeks to recoup its investment.

“The Airport Charges Directive in its current form does not really have enough teeth to ensure that these investments are properly considered, sized and costed. And you could end up in a situation where significant costs are passed on to airlines and, by extension, passengers via airport charges,” an A4E spokesperson told EURACTIV.

In emailed comments, ACI Europe, a major trade association representing airports, told EURACTIV that industry investment should be backed by incentives, with risks reduced through “consistent and stable” policies. .

The spokesperson added that a “wide-ranging conversation” is needed with aviation stakeholders to ensure the right policy measures are put in place to make hydrogen flight a reality.

Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, has pledged to bring a hydrogen-powered aircraft to market by the mid-2030s.

The Toulouse-based carmaker told EURACTIV it sees itself as a “facilitator” of the hydrogen switchover. The company has already signed a number of agreements with players in the aviation industry – from engineering companies to hydrogen producers – to prepare for the introduction of the new plane.

This includes a Memorandum of Association with ACI Europe, signed in June, to collaborate on technical standards for new charging and refueling infrastructure.

“We want to bring all the key players around the same table to ensure that we have the infrastructure to commercialize our zero-emission aircraft by 2035,” an Airbus spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Earlier this year, Airbus announced plans to test a hydrogen jet engine by 2026. By 2028, airlines will be able to pay a deposit to acquire them. And by 2050, it is expected that some 75% of aircraft worldwide will use the clean technology currently under development.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]