Airbus, in collaboration with French aerospace companies Safran and Dassault Aviation, the ONERA aeronautics research laboratory, and the French Ministry of Transport, has conducted a successful test flight of an A321neo aircraft powered by 100% unblended sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The flight, part of the VOLCAN project, is a significant step towards decarbonizing the aviation industry and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The test flight took off from Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse, France, on March 11, 2023, and was closely followed by a data-collecting aircraft that captured emissions data for detailed analysis. The VOLCAN project, which stands for “Flight with new alternative fuels” in French, aims to evaluate the potential benefits of unblended SAF compared to conventional aviation fuel in terms of reducing CO2 and non-CO2 emissions.
The A321neo aircraft used in the test flight was powered by LEAP-1A engines from CFM International, and it provides an opportunity to evaluate the potential benefits of unblended SAF versus conventional aviation fuel. This A321neo is the first Airbus single-aisle aircraft and the latest Airbus aircraft overall – following the A350 and A330MRTT – to test 100% sustainable aviation fuel on both engines.
The test flight was conducted with the support of a highly modified Dassault jet from the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which flew within 100 meters of the A321neo, using the testbed’s sensors to capture emissions data for detailed analysis.
The VOLCAN evaluations are focused on the emissions of unblended SAF, which is not mixed with any fossil fuels, unlike SAF blends that are increasingly being used in aviation today. The potential to cut emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel highlights the immense possibilities for SAF usage in the aviation sector.
Currently, all Airbus commercial and military aircraft, as well as helicopters, are capable of flying with up to a 50% blend of SAF. The goal is to ensure 100% SAF capability by 2030 of these products. Airbus’ commitment to sustainable aviation fuels is part of its broader strategy to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.
Airbus CEO, Guillaume Faury, said, “Today’s test flight marks an important milestone in our journey towards decarbonizing the aviation industry. We are proud to be leading the way in developing sustainable aviation fuels and working with our partners to find innovative solutions that reduce our environmental impact. Our goal is to ensure that all our products can fly with 100% sustainable aviation fuel by 2030, and we are well on our way to achieving that.”
The aviation industry is responsible for approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is expected to continue growing in the coming years. The International Civil Aviation Organization has set a goal of reducing aviation emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, and the use of sustainable aviation fuels is seen as a key part of achieving this target.
The successful test flight of the A321neo powered by 100% unblended sustainable aviation fuel is a significant milestone in the aviation industry’s transition to a more sustainable future. The results of the VOLCAN project’s evaluations will provide valuable information on the potential benefits of unblended SAF, bringing the aviation industry one step closer to decarbonization and a more sustainable.