Airbus and Siemens have apparently prematurely terminated their 2016 development cooperation for hybrid-electric aircraft engines.
The press release recently issued by Airbus announced the change in the relationship in a somewhat indirect manner. The development was confirmed by a Siemens spokesman to German news outlet Welt Online. According to the report, a Siemens spokesperson has explained that, “the agreed targets were achieved one year faster than expected so that an earlier separation is now taking place”.
What was announced as a five-year cooperation in 2016 was supposed to continue into 2020. The plan was for Airbus and Siemens to invest a three-digit million sum over that period. The now-ending cooperation involved a team of 200 people who had the task of establishing which models would be possible in three thrust classes (100 kilowatts, over two megawatts, up to ten megawatts). Perhaps significantly, the cooperation between the two companies was exclusive for aircraft models for more than 20 people.
In November 2017, Siemens, Airbus and Rolls Royce announced that they would fit a 100-seater regional jet with a hybrid electric drive for a turbine by 2020, at least in a test version. What now remains unclear is whether the E-Fan X project will come to fruition.
The relationship between Siemens and Airbus is now changing from an ambitious cooperation to a mere supplier relationship. Martin Nuesseler, Head of E-Aircraft Systems Programme at Airbus made only the vague assertion that, “The results we have achieved this far pave the way towards the future of hybrid electric flight. We are sure that Siemens eAircraft will continue to be a close partner of Airbus in future.”
The reasons behind the move can only be speculated at this point. It could be related to the change in management at Airbus: Guillaume Faury recently took over the management of the group from Tom Enders. In addition, there are new appointments in the technology department at Airbus.
What may also be significant is the changing environment around electric aviation. With companies like Israeli aircraft manufacturer Eviation and Bye Aerospace from Colorado making big steps in commercially viable electric planes, the two aircraft heavyweights Airbus and Boeing are by no means only companies in the field. In addition, a plethora of startups are working on flying taxis and drones that all have electric motors. In March of this year, Airbus presented the fruits of their work with Audi as part of the Urban Air Mobility project with the air taxi CityAirbus. It may also be speculated that the partly exclusive Airbus contract with Siemens proved prohibitive.
Although the European aeroplane manufacturer is convinced that Siemens “will remain a close partner of Airbus in the future”, as phrased by Manfred Nuesseler, head of the E-aircraft programs at Airbus – there is no longer any talk of close cooperation.