Would we have ever imagined in 2006 when JetBlue launched the world’s first sustained passenger flight with a jet fueled entirely by carbon dioxide-eating hydrogen that we would be debating the value of adding a suite of environmentally-friendly fuel options to our lives? The time it’s taken the industry to set aside years of rhetoric and pursue real action to make this become a reality, arguably, is too long for those of us who thought such a solution was a no-brainer. But according to American Airlines executive vice president for commercial aviation and president of American Airlines, Willie Walsh, there is a future for hydrogen, and in the near term the industry has no choice but to seek it out.
Traveling on Business Class, American’s King Charles Boeing 767 just took off from Bangkok for a layover in Nice, and our Westwind sister publication Airinsight is flying with American in Paris on U.S. airlines-on a new Airbus A319 equipped with the first commercial flight-to-plane engines made of Hydrogen Fuel Cell fuel cells. The new technology powered this early test flight, which the company notes was not only powered by commercial tankers carrying industrial grade Hydrogen Fuel cells, but also flew at a regular cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
In the air, the crew began powering the U.S. airlines first commercial flight using hydrogen with a petro-diesel fuelling element. What’s coming up next on the Thomas Roberts Show http://t.co/juhRbPNT19 pic.twitter.com/QNSlBtdLF7 — Airinsight (@airinsight) October 15, 2015
Speaking to the Washington Post, Walsh said that while this technology is still some two years away from commercial adoption, American doesn’t plan to leave its option open as it seeks out new options for the industry’s dwindling fleet of aircraft.
“For me, this is looking forward, and assuming a realistic timeline, we need to see how this works,” Walsh told the Post. “How does it react when there’s turbulence? How does it tolerate the stresses of your return journey?”
American will continue its testing to see if such planes are safe to fly even in worst-case scenarios.
Fuel could be the key ingredient for the most earnest effort to jumpstart the industry’s push for truly more sustainable aircraft—setting the stage for a future where the fleet could compete on whatever terms remain in the current low-cost economy model without the dependence on foreign oil.
First commercial passenger flight powered entirely by hydrogen fuel cells operated by Airbus: @ustream pic.twitter.com/em0yH7ey8x — Airinsight (@airinsight) October 15, 2015
The Atlantic envisions our future, which could also include commercial aircraft, being powered by diesel, an alternative.
Nah, it’s just not enough.