Flying on hydrogen from Rotterdam The Hague Airport: almost ready for boarding

New technologies and fuels are being researched all over the world to make flying cleaner and more sustainable. At Rotterdam The Hague Airport, a partnership is working on making the first hydrogen-powered commercial European passenger flights possible. Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport is an essential partner in these developments.

Rotterdam The Hague Airport (RTHA) is the regional airport for the Rotterdam and The Hague area. RTHA handles around 2 million passengers annually and connects to 50 European destinations. Besides being an important European hub, Rotterdam The Hague Airport is also a testing ground where plenty of work is being done on the aviation of the future. RTHA is an international test site for sustainable innovations in hydrogen and battery-electric aviation and is part of the Royal Schiphol Group.

Innovation and collaboration for cleaner, sustainable aviation

Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport (RHIA) plays a crucial role in this: a community of companies, research institutes and governments working together towards a cleaner, quieter and sustainable future for aviation. One of RHIA’s programmes, the Fieldlab Next Aviation, sees parties such as TU Delft, KVE, Airborne and NLR working together. Fieldlab Next Aviation is researching topics such as new propulsion techniques, operational procedures and smarter propellers and rotor blades. And flying on hydrogen. The European TULIPS project, for example, will soon carry out the first hydrogen tests at the airport. The focus will be on delivering, storing and refuelling hydrogen.

Commercial European hydrogen-powered flights

Various partners and companies in the RHIA community, including ZeroAvia, Shell, Conscious Aerospace, TPY and H2Systemic, and the aforementioned parties, are working towards the first hydrogen-powered flights from Rotterdam. This not only involves flying on hydrogen but also all of the associated procedures and facilities at the airport, including the necessary infrastructure for distribution and storage. They are developing a total concept for the hydrogen value chain. In the first phase, hydrogen-powered flights will be deployed to regional European destinations. Rotterdam The Hague Airport expects that the first ZeroAvia hydrogen-powered flights can take place in 2025 and the first liquid hydrogen-powered flight with Conscious Aerospace should be in 2028.

Wilma van Dijk, CEO of Rotterdam The Hague Airport, addressed these plans in an earlier press release: ‘Hydrogen is a potentially sustainable alternative to flying on kerosene. This collaboration will help us demonstrate and validate our airport’s hydrogen infrastructure and the associated procedures. This will accelerate the transition towards zero-emission aviation.’

The total concept for hydrogen flights

The collaboration on hydrogen flying comprises four main components, explains Miranda Janse (the director of RHIA Foundation): ‘We, of course, need to develop aircraft that can fly on hydrogen. ZeroAvia and Conscious Aerospace are both working on retrofitting existing aircraft. Parties like AeroDelft, NLR and TU Delft are doing the same, but then for research projects. Then there is the infrastructure. Aircraft development requires suitable infrastructure at the airport. This type of infrastructure must meet the highest safety requirements and is new to airports. This includes hydrogen production, storage facilities and (mobile) refuelers. The third component is fuel. There must be plenty of green hydrogen available. Local production of hydrogen is a must, but the import of green hydrogen is also necessary. The Rotterdam region, including the Port of Rotterdam, is putting a lot of effort into this. RTHA has joined this movement and is a link in the regional hydrogen chain. And lastly, the fourth component is the hydrogen infrastructure on the destination side. Investing in a green corridor, a route between airports, with fellow European airports is essential. We are already working with other European airports on European projects, and we will announce a fantastic new collaboration with another European airport in the summer.’

Significant challenges

Hydrogen-powered flying is a relatively new phenomenon and comes with its fair share of challenges. Miranda Janse explains that the aforementioned issues concerning the availability of green hydrogen and developing new infrastructure are not the only challenges on the road to flying on hydrogen. ‘Another particularly important challenge, besides developing suitable aircraft and properly facilitating test flights at an operational airport, is the process of certification. This is comparable to the proverbial chicken-and-egg dilemma. Do we wait to invest in building hydrogen-driven infrastructure because only a few hydrogen-driven aircraft are being manufactured? Or do we wait to scale up and build aircraft because there is no suitable infrastructure yet? Another important factor is the availability of green hydrogen. Yet another challenge, certainly no less important, is the need to invest in raising awareness and gaining the support of the ultimate users, the passengers.’

Rotterdam Hydrogen Hub

Wilma van Dijk believes that it is logical that Rotterdam plays a leading role in the development of hydrogen-powered flying. The region has a number of vital ingredients. ‘Many aviation-related manufacturing companies are located here. RTHA is in a region that is shaping itself into ‘Europe’s Hydrogen Hub’. RTHA also meets all the required certifications and makes itself available as a safe and, at the same time, operational test and development environment for sustainable aviation applications. Also, the current range of destinations makes RTHA ideally suited to commercially exploit this development; 80% of its current flights are contenders for hydrogen-fuelled flights in the future. Finally, with the developments in shipping in our Rotterdam port, there is a lot of hydrogen knowledge in the region. And we collaborate extensively with TU Delft and NLR who have and are building on the necessary knowledge on hydrogen-powered flying.’

Hydrogen by itself is not the solution

Hydrogen-related developments are of great importance to the energy transition and are followed closely worldwide. But according to Wilma van Dijk, energy transition and climate adaptation do not rest on hydrogen alone. ‘There is no silver bullet. Making aviation more sustainable is only possible if multiple solutions are further developed. Hydrogen is one of them, but battery-electric and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are also viable options. At the previous Hydrogen Summit, we announced that we would develop a roadmap and implement several steps. We have since launched several projects, for example, under TULIPS, and we will launch the sequel very soon!’

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Header photo: ZeroAvia

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