The wings on the Airbus zero-emission concepts are blended into the main body and use gas-turbine engines powered by hydrogen © AIRBUS/AFP via Getty Images

Airbus is forecasting the first zero-emission commercial aircraft will take to the skies by 2035 as it unveiled computer-generated images of hydrogen-powered planes that could pave the way for a carbon-free future.

The European aerospace manufacturer on Monday released images of three zero-emission concepts, which rely on hydrogen as their primary power source.

“The concepts offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus chief executive.

“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen — both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft — has the potential to significantly reduce aviation's climate impact.”

Airbus said one of the concepts, which blend the wings into the main body, would be powered by a “modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion”.

The company added that replacing traditional jet fuel with hydrogen could reduce CO2 emissions from the aviation industry by up to 50 per cent.

The aviation industry is a big emitter of CO2, accounting for more than 2 per cent of global emissions, according to research from the European Commission.

Airbus vice-president for zero-emission aircraft Glenn Llewellyn said government support would be needed to design and manufacture the aircraft, although he declined to give a figure for costs.

The company is hoping demonstration models will be in operation before 2025, with a full-scale concept ready some time later this decade.

EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren backed the plans by Airbus. “We are excited to see the unveiling by Airbus of its new aircraft concepts,” the chief executive of the low-cost airline said. “EasyJet remains absolutely committed to more sustainable flying and we know that technology is where the answer lies for the industry.”

The Airbus announcement comes at a difficult time for the company. In July, it announced that about 15,000 jobs will be cut from the commercial aircraft division — roughly 17 per cent of its workforce — by the middle of next year.

The company also reported a first-half net loss of €1.9bn against net income of €1.2bn in the same period last year. Consolidated revenues fell by 39 per cent to €18.9bn, reflecting the damage wrought on the sector by the pandemic.

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