easyJet unveils hybrid aircraft concept designs

easyJet has revealed plans for a zero emissions hydrogen fuel system for its aircraft which could save around 50,000 tonnes of fuel and the associated CO2 emissions per year.

easyJet has long been committed to reducing its passengers' carbon footprint and has set new targets for 2020 which will see a reduction of 7% over the next five years compared to with it‎s emissions today, which are 81.05 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometre. This follows a decrease of 28% over the last 15 years.

For the hybrid plane concept the airline turned to students at Cranfield University who were asked to develop ideas for what air travel might look like in twenty years’ time, as part of a competition to celebrate easyJet’s recent 20th birthday celebrations. easyJet plans a trial of the technology later this year.

The concept is based around the taxiing element of a flight and utilises a hydrogen fuel cell stowed in the aircraft's hold. This innovative zero-emissions system captures energy from the aircraft brakes on landing and is used to charge the system’s lightweight batteries when the aircraft is on the ground (as with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) found in Formula 1 racing cars).

The stored energy can then be used without needing to use the engines. The high frequency and short sector lengths of easyJet’s operations mean that around 4% of the airline’s total fuel consumed annually is used when aircraft are taxiing.

Motors in the aircraft’s main wheels and electronics and system controllers will give pilots control of the aircraft’s speed, direction and braking during taxi operations. The system would therefore reduce, if not remove altogether, the need for tugs to manoeuvre aircraft in and out of stands.

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The concept has been further developed by easyJet’s engineering team led by director Ian Davies. “At easyJet, we are continuing to apply the use of new digital and engineering technologies across the airline. The hybrid plane concept we are announcing is both a vision of the future and a challenge to our partners and suppliers to continue to push the boundaries towards reducing our carbon emissions. It’s also a great example of the benefits of our strategic relationship with Cranfield University,” Davies remarked.

Dr Craig Lawson, lecturer, Centre for Aeronautics, Cranfield University, added, “We are delighted to be working on this project with easyJet on what is a real-world example of how we can innovate together. Our students have showcased some exciting ideas for the 2035 vision of the airline industry through The Future of Flight competition, presenting environmental solutions, operational improvements and ideas to enhance the customer experience. We’re looking forward to developing this concept further.”

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