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 giant leaps in climate action to ensure that the future of flying is more sustainable. Technological progress is a crucial component of this decarbonisation – including new, climate-first engine designs.

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

That: Aviation is a crucial issue in a world dealing with climate change – how can aviation become the first climate industry?

Riccardo Procracci is CEO of Avio Aero

A: We believe that aviation and the ability to travel are essential because the world works better when it flies. Everyone in the world has the right to stay connected to family, friends, job opportunities and healthcare, not to mention the many 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 reduce the carbon footprint of commercial aviation. Making air travel more sustainable is one of the biggest challenges the industry has faced, and the pandemic has only increased the industry’s focus on reducing our environmental impact.

The technology introduced by GE for commercial aircraft has resulted in today’s aircraft engines consuming 40 percent less fuel compared to engines produced in the 1970s. Looking ahead, airlines and aircraft and engine equipment manufacturers strengthened commitments to reduce carbon emissions from commercial aviation, announcing new goals to be net zero by 2050. At the recent 41st General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), member states adopted a similar goal, while Providing international government support. For us, these announcements mean more combined efforts and investment.

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The reduction of carbon emissions will come from three areas: fleet renewal and technological breakthroughs in aircraft and engines, alternative fuels with lower carbon and improved air traffic management. Alternative energy sources are the key. Commercial aviation will not be able to meet its collective carbon emission reduction goals without the adoption and wider availability of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which has lower life-cycle carbon emissions 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 ambition to zero. To this end, Avio Aero and other European GE Aerospace operations are collaborating with the European Commission’s Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking to develop and advance technologies for highly efficient hybrid electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft.

We are maturing multiple technologies to achieve at least 20 percent better fuel efficiency and 20 percent 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 drive systems. These engine technologies are developed to be fuel flexible with SAF and hydrogen.

We will see open fan, hybrid electric and hydrogen technologies undergo ground and flight tests this decade. What we learn could lead to the development of new engine products to enter service in the mid-30s.

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Increasing the adoption and availability of SAF is also important to reach net zero. All GE engines can run on currently approved SAF blends.

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

A: The next-generation propulsion systems that GE is developing could provide a step change in reducing emissions. Our goal is to achieve more than 20 percent better fuel efficiency in future single-aisle commercial aircraft compared to the current state—the largest improvement our company has made.

The open fan engine design is key to achieving our 20 percent target and Avio Aero is contributing to the development of open fan architectures under Europe’s Clean Aviation program in collaboration with Safran Aircraft Engines. We also contributed to Europe’s Clean Sky 2 programme, exploring multiple architectures for hybrid electricity.

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

Q: What has changed over the past few years that makes GE and engine technology a crucial part of today’s climate innovation conversation?

A: The past technological innovations in the aviation industry that improved fuel efficiency resulted from fuel prices, which changed over time.

What makes today special 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 necessary to truly reach our net-zero aspirations.

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The other difference from before is that our company has developed advanced technologies, both in our engine designs and in our design tools, which have allowed our engineers to advance the advanced technology beyond what was previously believed possible. .

Q: What is the European context? How are EU citizens affected 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: decarbonisation. And we have the ambition to deliver.

We collaborate between industries, governments and universities. In addition to plans to continue testing our 100 percent SAF engines, we joined the European Renewable and Low Carbon Fuels Alliance, which focused on increasing the production and supply of the alternative fuel. Through our shared commitment to Clean Aviation, we are developing advanced engine technologies for future aircraft. In addition, Avio Aero joined the Alliance for Zero-Emission Aviation, supporting the introduction of new technologies with zero emissions during flight.

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

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


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



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