Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are the most likely but expensive short-term solution for decarbonisation of air traffic, while hydrogen-powered aircraft are the better long-term option and may first fly on regional routes, Airbus chief executive Guillame Faury said.

“SAF is the short-term solution, and for long-haul flights probably the long-term one, and it's compatible with today's aircraft technology,” Faury told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“But I also believe that hydrogen is the long-term solution to our net zero goal and that we need to start now.”

The European aircraft manufacturer still plans to bring at least one H2-powered commercial airplane to the market by 2035, and will determine the technology used for it in 2025, choosing from three different concepts first unveiled in 2020.

Although the design hasn’t been chosen yet, Faury said the company’s first hydrogen airplane is likely to be a smaller model, to be used on regional routes that make up a substantial part of air travel.

But the CEO also dampened the anticipation regarding a rapid ramp-up of H2-powered aviation.

“Hydrogen won’t deliver a great contribution to CO2 reductions in the year 2050, but there will be a time after that,” he told the newspaper.

“Everyone is so focused on the year 2050, because that is the target. But it will be a very inefficient net zero, and it will take us decades to make it efficient.”

Airbus together with utility Uniper, energy tech company Siemens Energy and chemicals firm Sasol ecoFT last month had announced to carry out a feasibility study on producing SAFs based on green hydrogen made from renewable energy under the ‘Green Fuels for Hamburg’ initiative.

If feasible, the group would produce at least 10,000 tonnes of green kerosene per year for aviation in the first expansion stage from 2026 on, which can be used on conventional aircraft but at an elevated price.

Producing decarbonised aviation fuel at first will “cost a lot of energy and be expensive”, Faury acknowledged.