Travelling to Stansted Airport and beyond could soon be a completely zero emissions journey


Image credit: Airbus/LEVC remixed

With the push for a zero emissions transportation network very much high up on government and local authority agendas, it may be no surprise to hear that we might not be too far away from zero emissions passenger aircrafts.


The latest model of London’s iconic black taxi, the TX by the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), is available in a number of UK cities and offers up zero emission capabilities.

As well as the TX, Nissan have also brought to market their own fully electric taxi; the Nissan Dynamo. So when it comes to travelling in an eco-friendly taxi, whether it be to an airport or beyond, that area is covered.


But what about when you get to the airport preparing for a flight in a plane filled with a serious amount of jet fuel? This kind of defeats the purpose, right? Well that could all change In the not so distant future.


Next-generation, zero-emission planes could be operating out of London Stansted within the next 10 – 15 years thanks to a new competition by the airport’s owner to drive advances in aviation technology.


Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the UK’s largest airport group, has fired the starting pistol on a competition for the first airline to operate a zero-emission commercial flight from one of its airports. This is the first competition of its kind in the industry, which will see the successful carrier win five years’ free landing fees worth up to £1.3million in today’s prices.

The competition comes as the Group publishes its annual CSR Report, which sets out the vital role the airport continues to play in the regional economy and local communities. This includes:

  • Almost 12,000 volunteering hours by colleagues to support projects in the local community

  • A 20% reduction in the amount of waste generated, with the airport continuing its track record of sending zero waste to landfill for the third year in a row, including becoming the first airport in the UK to send all its coffee grounds to be recycled into solid biofuels,

  • An industry-leading trial of fully compostable bags when carrying liquids in hand luggage through security

  • Welcoming a full intake of 500 students to the airport’s dedicated, on-site college for the third consecutive year since it opened in 2018

  • A special event for 50 young women from across Harlow to mark United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The report also makes a landmark commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2038, twelve years ahead of the UK’s aviation industry target to become net zero carbon by 2050.


Airlines taking part in the competition to win the free landing fees will be given free rein in their choice of low-emission technology, including electric and hydrogen technology. It comes after global manufacturer Airbus revealed three concept ‘ZEROe’ hydrogen powered commercial aircraft, which could carry up to 200 passengers from the UK across Europe from 2035.


These concepts each represent a different approach to achieving zero-emission flight, exploring various technology pathways and aerodynamic configurations in order to support the company’s ambition of leading the way in the decarbonisation of the entire aviation industry.

All of these concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source – an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets.

Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO, said: “This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight.


“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation's climate impact.”

The three concepts – all codenamed “ZEROe” – for a first climate neutral zero-emission commercial aircraft include:

Image credit: Airbus

A turbofan design (120-200 passengers) with a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.

Image credit: Airbus

A turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, which would be capable of traveling more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it a perfect option for short-haul trips.

Image credit: Airbus

A “blended-wing body” design (up to 200 passengers) concept in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.


Faury continued: “These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035.


“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”

In order to tackle these challenges, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. Support from governments will be key to meet these ambitious objectives with increased funding for research and technology, digitalisation, and mechanisms that encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally-friendly aircraft earlier.


The first commercial-grade six-seater aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell was also showcased at Cranfield University in September.


Sustainable Aviation, the UK aviation industry’s sustainability group has forecast that the sector can expect to see the first zero emission regional or short-haul flight in around 10-15 years’ time. MAG’s initiative will complement the full range of measures needed to help the UK reach its Net Zero 2050 target, including modernising UK airspace, sustainable aviation fuels, smart flight operations and new aircraft technology. Today’s announcement comes as the Government’s Jet Zero Council, of which MAG is a founding member, prepares to meet for a second time in the coming days.


Steve Griffiths, Managing Director of London Stansted, said: “Along with our colleagues across MAG, London Stansted has always been ambitious in our approach to sustainability. Whether it’s our ongoing commitment to avoid sending any waste to landfill, the thousands of hours our teams have spent volunteering in our community or the ground-breaking move to turn our coffee grounds into solid biofuels.


“There will always be more we can do, which is why we are setting our sights on seeing zero-carbon aircraft on our runway in the next 10-15 years, along with a commitment to be a net zero-carbon business by 2038.


“While coronavirus will continue to pose significant challenges for many months to come, this does not take away from the vital role we play in our community, our focus on sustainability and our commitment to supporting the region we serve.”


Neil Robinson, CSR and Airspace Change Director, MAG said: “When our airports prosper our communities around them prosper, but in tougher times we can help support each other too. We have a long history of working very closely in our local communities and, for us, sustainability means more than just reducing carbon, it means becoming a business that has long standing, sustainable relationships with our environment, people and communities at all levels.


“In striving to be the best possible neighbour, we also continuously focus on improving employment opportunities – and that means ensuring we have the right support on offer at our airports to help people find work, including airport academies, Further Education colleges and our ‘Aerozones’ that introduce school children to aviation.


“Having this framework in place will be even more important as we recover from Covid-19. This year’s annual CSR report demonstrates another great year of achievement and I look forward to delivering on our ambitious new five-year strategy.”

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