Making the future of flight more sustainable – POLITICO

It’s no secret that the aviation industry contributes to CO2 emissions. Aviation business leaders are therefore under pressure to make huge strides in climate action to ensure the future of flight can be more sustainable. Technological progress is a crucial part of this decarbonization, including new climate-focused engine designs.

Riccardo Procacci is CEO of Avio Aero, an airline with more than 5,000 employees in Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic, who joined the organization in 2013 to lead the transition of the team when it was acquired by GE . The company develops next-generation propulsion systems for commercial and military aviation, in collaboration with leading universities and research centers, while focusing its investments on research and development for the future of the aeronautical industry.

Q: Aviation is a hot topic in a world battling climate change – how can aviation become a climate-driven industry?

Riccardo Procracci is CEO of Avio Aero

A: We believe aviation and the ability to travel are essential because the world works best when it flies. Everyone in the world has the right to stay in touch with family, friends, job opportunities and health care, not to mention the myriad of other benefits of travel.

Avio Aero’s parent company, GE, is one of the largest aircraft engine manufacturers in the world. We take seriously our responsibility to help lead the aviation industry’s efforts to decarbonize commercial flight. Making air travel more sustainable is one of the biggest challenges the industry has faced, and the pandemic has only heightened industry focus on reducing our environmental impact.

Technology introduced by GE for commercial aircraft has enabled today’s aircraft engines to consume 40% less fuel than engines manufactured in the 1970s. Looking to the future, airlines and manufacturers of aircraft and engine equipment reinforced their commitments to reduce carbon emissions from commercial flights, announcing new goals of net zero by 2050. At the recent 41st General Assembly of the Aviation Organization Civil International (ICAO) member countries have adopted a similar goal, providing international governmental support. For us, these announcements mean more combined effort and investment.

Carbon emission reductions will come from three areas: fleet renewal and technological breakthroughs on aircraft and engines, low-carbon alternative fuels and improved air traffic management. Alternative energy sources are essential. Commercial aviation will not be able to meet its collective carbon reduction goals without the wider adoption and availability of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which emits less carbon throughout its lifecycle than petroleum-based jet fuel.

Q: What is GE doing to work towards a more sustainable future for aviation?

A: We will have the technologies ready to meet the industry’s net zero ambition. To this end, Avio Aero and other GE Aerospace European operations are collaborating with the European Commission’s Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking to develop and advance hydrogen, hybrid-electric and ultra-efficient aircraft technologies.

We are developing several technologies to achieve at least 20% more energy efficiency and 20% less CO2 emissions compared to our most efficient engines today. This includes the development of new advanced engine architectures, such as the open fan, compact engine core designs and hybrid electric propulsion systems. These engine technologies are being developed to be fuel flexible with SAF and hydrogen.

We will see open fan, hybrid electric and hydrogen technologies go through ground and flight testing in this decade. What we learn could lead to the development of new engine products for entry into service in the mid-2030s.

The increasing adoption and availability of SAFs is also important for achieving net zero. All GE engines can run on today’s approved SAF blends.

Q: What does innovation in aircraft engines look like today?

A: Next-generation propulsion systems developed by GE could bring a sea change in reducing emissions. Our goal is to improve the fuel efficiency of future single-aisle commercial aircraft by more than 20% over the current state of the art – the most significant improvement our company has undertaken.

The design of the open fan engine is key to achieving our 20% target and Avio Aero is contributing to the development of open fan architectures as part of the European Clean Aviation program in collaboration with Safran Aircraft Engines. We also contributed to the European Clean Sky 2 program, exploring several architectures for hybrid electricity.

Additionally, our new European designed and developed Catalyst engine is the first turboprop engine in aviation history made with 3D printed components, enabling a lighter and more fuel efficient engine, reducing carbon emissions.

Q: What has changed in recent years that makes GE and engine technology a crucial part of today’s climate innovation conversation?

A: Past technological innovations in the aviation industry that have improved fuel efficiency have been driven by fuel prices, which have fluctuated over time.

What makes today different is that climate change – and the price of carbon – will continue to drive and increase the urgency to introduce propulsion systems that result in more sustainable flight. And these kinds of disruptive technologies that are revolutionizing aircraft engines are needed to truly achieve our net zero ambitions.

The other difference from before is that our company has developed advanced technologies, both in our engine design and in our design tools, which have enabled our engineers to advance the state of the art in beyond what was previously thought possible. .

Q: What is the European context? How are EU citizens impacted by the work you do now and in the future?

A: Avio Aero and GE have major operations across Europe, including in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK, focused on one of the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry faces: decarbonization. And we have the ambition to deliver.

We collaborate between industries, governments and universities. In addition to our plans to continue testing our engines with 100% SAF, we have joined the European Renewable and Low Carbon Fuels Alliance, which focuses on boosting the production and supply of alternative fuels. Through the Clean Aviation joint venture, we are developing advanced engine technologies for future aircraft. Additionally, Avio Aero has joined the Alliance for Zero-Emission Aviation, supporting the introduction of new zero-emission technologies during flight.

Q: What gives you hope and optimism in terms of climate action?

A: It has never been more exciting to be an engineer in the aerospace industry. Taking on big challenges is what we do, and disruptive technologies like hybrid electric propulsion will enable a smarter, more efficient future of flight.

Learn more about what GE Aerospace is doing for the future of flight here.

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