As part of its strategy of reducing its passengers carbon footprint easyJet, Europe’s leading airline, has unveiled plans for a revolutionary 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 is 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 ‎it‎s emissions today, which are 81.05 grams CO2 per passenger kilometre. 

This follows a decrease of 28% over the last 15 years. easyJet invests in the latest technology, operates efficiently and fills most of its seats which means that an easyJet passenger's carbon footprint is 22% less than a passenger on a traditional airline, flying the same aircraft on the same route. ‎

For the hybrid plane concept the airline has taken inspiration from students at Cranfield University, a global leader in education and research in technology and management, 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 20th birthday in November 2015.

easyJet will now work with its industry partners and suppliers to apply the cutting edge technology much sooner with a trial set to take place later this year.

The hybrid plane concept utilises a hydrogen fuel cell stowed in the aircraft's hold. This innovative zero-emissions system allows energy to be captured as the aircraft brakes on landing and is used to charge the system’s lightweight batteries when the aircraft is on the ground (much like the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) found in Formula 1 cars).

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EasyJet's hybrid plane plans

The energy can then be used by the aircraft – for example when taxiing - without needing to use their jet engines.  Due to the high frequency and short sector lengths of easyJet’s operations, around 4% of the airline’s total fuel consumed annually is used when the airline’s aircraft are taxiing.  easyJet’s aircraft average 20 minutes of taxi time per flight – the equivalent of around four million miles a year – akin to travelling to the moon and back eight times.

Each aircraft would have power motors in their main wheels and power electronics and system controllers would give pilots total 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, delivering more efficient turnaround times and increased on time performance. 

The only waste product is fresh clean water which could be used to refill the aircraft’s water system throughout the flight. 

The concept has been developed by easyJet’s award winning engineering director Ian Davies and his team working with some of the ideas from students combined with easyJet’s own conceptual thinking.

Head of Engineering, easyJet, Ian Davies, commented:  “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 today 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.”

 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.

“Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university providing advanced, practical education and research. We are recognised internationally as meeting the needs of business, governments and wider society.

“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.”

easyJet and Cranfield University signed a three year strategic partnership agreement last year to share innovation and knowledge. 

As part of easyJet’s 20th birthday activities, students at Cranfield University were asked to compete in four categories; cabin design, aircraft design, airport experience and in-flight experience.

Judges at easyJet and Cranfield received a raft of pioneering advances from the aerospace students.  Further innovative ideas included dynamic wings which change shape in flight, a super-efficient 'shark skin' coating to reduce surface drag and, in the cabin, ultra-light weight seats carbon fibre seats incorporating wireless phone and tablet charging panels.

easyJet operates a fleet of over 240 Airbus A319s and A320s with an average age of just 6 years old. The airline will start taking delivery of A320neo aircraft from June 2017 and the new planes will be around 13% - 15% more fuel efficient than the planes they are replacing.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Cranfield Aerospace

Cranfield is the number one university in Europe for aerospace. We are the only university in Europe to own and run an airport and to have airline status. We have been at the forefront of aerospace technology for 70 years.

As the UK's most business-engaged University, we have long-term relationships and close commercial partnerships with many companies in the sector including Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

Our education, research and consultancy is enhanced by our world-class facilities including the National Flying Laboratory Centre – a unique national asset which provides a hands-on, flying experience, along with flight deck simulators and industrial-scale gas turbine engine test facilities used for performance and diagnostic studies. The Aerospace Integration Research Centre, a £35 million innovative centre built in partnership with Airbus and Rolls-Royce, fosters collaboration between industry and academia. A new £65 million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre will also be built at Cranfield to spearhead the UK’s research into digital aviation technology.

Notable Cranfield alumni include Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce plc and Ralph Hooper, who attended the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield in 1946 and went on to become one of the UK’s most important post-war aircraft designers, creating the Hawker Harrier jump jet.