Research Projects

Airport Infrastructure Requirements to Enable Aircraft Energy Transition

Electric or Hydrogen aircraft could present long-term sustainable solutions for aviation, but will heavily depend on the ability of airports to coordinate and provide the infrastructure required for their operation. This research will look into such challenges and opportunities.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

The World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Risk Report 2020, states: "Failure of climate change mitigation and adaption" is the number one risk by impact and number two by likelihood over the next 10 years[1]. The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed how vulnerable our society and our economy are to severe disruptions. The aviation sector has been one of the most affected with 25 million jobs at risk, between USD$63-113 billion lost in global revenue and by putting more than half of the operating aircraft into storage and reducing airport's operations to an unprecedented level[2]. According to ACI, Airports are expected to lose close to USD$13 billion in 2020 [3]. This is relevant in the context of this proposal for the following reasons:

- Climate change is a larger threat to the world with the potential to affect the livelihoods of millions of people and which could impact the aviation sector even more in the long-term compared to this pandemic. The IPCC Special Report alerts that the entire economy must decarbonize by 2050 to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change [4]. Lessons learned from the COVID-19 crises should support initiatives to reduce the risks associated with climate change, including shifting the focus of investment to more definitive solutions for decarbonizing the sector, such as electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft and their related infrastructure.

- A study from Oxford University evaluated over 700 stimulus or policies for recovery and identified "Clean Energy Infrastructure" and "Clean R&D" spending to be the two approaches that can provide the higher economic multiplier while having a positive environmental impact [5]. The top 200 economic specialists who supported the study have positioned themselves on which sectors recovery policy and funds should focus their support; aviation (airlines and airports) have made the last of all. Identifying the feasibility of transitioning the sector to decarbonization could potentially help the industry reputation among financing institutions and government policies - either local or national

Aviation is one of the sectors harder to decarbonize, due to the high energy requirements for flight (aviation fuel contains an exceptionally high specific energy), the long fleet replacement times (20-30 years), the safety concerns and the tight margin in which many stakeholders operate. Current aircraft technology, and evolutionary improvements of that will not deliver the necessary reductions to stay on target. Breakthrough approaches need to accelerate for aviation to keep connecting people and commerce in a long-term sustainable way. Understanding infrastructure requirements to support this energy transition is as essential as developing the technologies themselves.

Delaying investments into decarbonization could also lead to lock-in in carbon-intensive infrastructure, i.e. a dependency which will make decarbonization more difficult to implement. Achieving CO2 reductions through incremental changes to that infrastructure will be significantly more expensive than early investment in cleaner alternatives.

As far as we know there are very limited knowledge (including projects) on airport infrastructure to enable such technologies. These solutions will require airports being part of the process of their development. This research should help assess their feasibility from an airport operator perspective, which could in turn facilitate the necessary stakeholder collaboration to support the timely entry into service of alternative energy aircraft.






Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The research will help airports understand the importance of early planning and coordinating along with the technical aspects related to an aviation energy transition, specifically:

- The benefits of investing on "green infrastructure"- a path to economic recovery- and long-term sustainable solutions

- Infrastructure required to enable alternative energy flights like Hydrogen or Electric

- Scenarios of development of such revolutionary aircraft, to showcase which airports and potentially routes could adapt faster

- Long term economic and environmental benefits of driving the energetic revolution

- Exploratory study on the operational implications of radically new aircraft

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

- Gather information of the most ambitious decarbonisation approaches, especially those related to a change in energy source

- Liaise with research institutes involved in such approaches to understand the infrastructure requirements for US airports

- Quantify the infrastructure, energy, and operational procedures required to enable an aircraft energy transition

- Liaise with at least 10 airports in the US (including major hubs and smaller airports) through Airports Council International ACI membership to get feedback related to the feasibility of the requirements, and identify the best solution that will bring benefits to national airports operators in the long term

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Cost estimate: $350,000:

Including the time of: Senior/Managing director, Mid-Level staff, Junior Staff, Support Staff and Admin. to be shared in the following way (approximate)

Senior Manager: 24%

Mid-Level: 35%

Junior Staff: 32%

Support and Admin: 9%

Details about the hourly rates are confidential and cannot be disclosed at this stage.


The project is to be divided into 3 tasks with the following budget allocation in brackets

- Gathering of data and requirements (28%)

-Scenario mapping and engagement with US airports (47%)

-Recommendations drafting in cooperation with airports (25%)

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.


- Projects for electrifying passenger aircraft are already underway. In the US Wright electric and in Germany the Ce-Liner look to develop a 180 passenger fully electric aircraft for a range of 900 NM in partnership with an airline [1] [2]

- In Sweden and Norway the Green Flyway project integrates airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports, into trying the first international electric aircraft corridor in the world [3]

- In Canada, the US and Israel, a partnership to develop fully electric power-plants to propel aircraft is underway and has already flow passengers commercially [4] [5]. Harbor Air, using MagniX engines was the first commercial airline to fly passengers on an electric aircraft.

- A recent project in the European Union lead by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) looks into expanding the scope to 70 passenger aircraft to fly short haul routes in Europe [6].

- However, battery development is slow, and the best batteries of today have 1/60th of the energy required to power large passenger aircraft. According to our estimates, if an 737-sized aircraft was to fly on batteries, the weight of the batteries would exceed the MTOW of the aircraft, with today's technologies.

- Furthermore, if all the flights departing from Montreal were electric, the Trudeau International Airport would require an amount of electric energy equivalent to three times the energy consumption of the city of Montreal [7]. How will this energy be generated? Considering that today more energy is generated by burning coal than by renewables, what would be the real impact on CO2 of this? [8] [9] [10], How will it get transported to the airport? How will it get stored prior to uptaking it on aircraft?


- Hydrogen presents an unrivaled fuel as it has a higher specific energy than Jet-A, and being a carbonless fuel, its emissions do not contain CO2. Furthermore, hydrogen is widely available, although energy is required to obtain it in pure form.

- EnableH2, a multipartner European Union project is currently analyzing the possibility of replacing Jet-A fuel with liquid cryogenic hydrogen. The project involves safety aspects, combustion simulations and experiments, as well as economic and life-cycle assesments [11] [12].

- 2019 was deemed a year of unprecedented momentum for hydrogen as the hydrogen initiatives all around the world multiplied [13]

- The production of hydrogen today equates to about half of the consumption of aviation fuel by mass, however only 0.1% of this hydrogen is from renewable sources [14]. How could we supply aircraft with clean hydrogen at the airport?

- What infrastructure would be required for this?

While new aircraft design is a widely studied subject in terms of alternative energy solutions for civil aviation, there are little or no studies in collaboration with US airports, and in coordination with a global airport network that analyses the infrastructure required to enable this. Furthermore, there are few studies that are focused not only on the requirements on infrastructure (and operations) but that include the perspective of airports. Bridging such gap can greatly contribute to towards a sustainable energy transition for the civil aviation sector.



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Idea No. 501