Airbus has now officially announced the end of the ‘E-Fan X’ development project that it had launched in 2017 together with Siemens and Rolls-Royce. The aim was to equip a 100-seat regional aircraft with a hybrid-electric drive train by 2020.
The partners had first announced in May 2019 that Airbus and Siemens would end their cooperation for hybrid-electric aircraft drives ahead of schedule. In June 2019, Siemens also added that it would sell its electric aircraft business unit for electric aircraft drives to Rolls-Royce, leaving only the British company to participate in the project with Airbus.
In its current announcement, Airbus regrets the end of the E-Fan X project. However, much has been learned from it. “Airbus’ overriding goal remains unchanged: we’re fully committed to decarbonising aviation,” says Grazia Vittadini, Airbus Chief Technology Officer. “We’re steadfast in our belief that there’s no world in which the future of air travel is not a sustainable one.”
The decision to terminate the project was taken jointly with Rolls-Royce. The knowledge gained on hybrid architectures, high-voltage systems and batteries are to be further developed in the Airbus E-Aircraft System Test House. At the same time, Vittadini described hydrogen as a possibility, “equal parts a huge opportunity as it is a new challenge”. All in all, he said, E-Fan X “shattered preconceived notions of what is possible in future flight”.
However, the technology boss of Airbus does not give a concrete outlook on hybrid aircraft. “Although E-Fan X will not be flying in the sky, I firmly believe that its spirit will live on if we continue our journey towards climate-neutral flight,” says Vittadini, thus remaining rather vague.
The unclear prospects for the hybrid project have only limited connection to the Covid 19 pandemic and the drastic economic consequences for the entire aviation industry. Former CEO Tom Enders primarily saw Airbus as the driving force behind the project – the German manager expressed his confidence in developing hybrid engines for medium-sized aircraft by 2030. However, with the move of Guillaume Faury to the top of the company and the appointment of Vittadini as Chief Technology Officer, the hybrid course at Airbus has changed.
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