But we have much work to do. Making it so aircraft can use hydrogen optimally would require significant modifications in airframes, for example – hydrogen has very low volumetric energy density and can’t be stored in the same way as conventional jet fuel – but none of those modifications are beyond our capability.
Making hydrogen work as aircraft fuel will require collaboration between airframers and propulsion providers, and, much like SAF, it will require new infrastructure efforts by energy companies and governments around the world.
Improving fleet operational efficiency
There are important opportunities to improve the fuel economy of aircraft by optimizing air traffic and flight operations. This will allow for flight trajectories to follow near-optimal routes, at near-optimal altitudes and speeds during all phases of flight, which will reduce delays, fuel consumption and emissions.
There are also opportunities to reduce fuel consumption at the airport surface through improved taxi and ramp operations. Taking full advantage of these opportunities requires more intelligence in the aircraft avionics, new automation in air traffic management systems, advanced air-ground datalink communications, more accurate and timely weather information, as well as improved systems and capabilities at airlines’ operations centers.
Collins Aerospace has been upgrading avionics to enable navigation systems to harness information for optimal aircraft trajectory planning, flight path optimization, flight planning, use of enhanced flight vision systems and weather radar for more efficient operations.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, has been fielding and upgrading state-of-the-art air traffic management systems as part of the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation System portfolio to deliver trajectory-based operations capabilities and to bring more efficiency to the way controllers manage air traffic.
Collectively, Collins Aerospace and Raytheon Intelligence & Space have been providing and modernizing datalink and enterprise network solutions to support airlines and the FAA. They have also been key players in providing weather information capabilities, including weather sensors and integrated weather processing systems. Together, and depending on the specific airspace environment, traffic conditions, and the capabilities of the aircraft fleet, operational improvements could lead to reductions in aircraft CO2 emissions by up to 10%.
Industry groups such as ATAG and the IATA, as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization, have set very ambitious targets for sustainable aviation and have identified what is referred to as a “basket of measures” to achieve those goals.
None of the approaches highlighted above will by itself accomplish the sustainability goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Achieving that goal will require significant partnership and collaboration among the aviation industry, the energy industry and governments across the globe.
The journey will be tough but far from impossible – and the innovators of Raytheon Technologies are ready for it.