Airbus and Rolls-Royce have axed the E-Fan X demonstrator programme, a year before the experimental hybrid-electric engine airliner was supposed to fly.
The E-Fan X programme was launched to explore electric aviation and involved equipping a BAE Systems Avro RJ100 with a hybrid engine.
But Airbus chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini says that the airframer is having to “navigate the realities” of a world impacted by the coronavirus crisis, and concentrate on priorities.
She says Airbus and Rolls-Royce have “jointly decided”, as a result, to “bring the E-Fan X demonstrator to an end”.
“As with all ground-breaking [research] projects, it’s our duty to constantly evaluate and reprioritise them to ensure alignment with our ambitions,” adds Vittadini.
“These decisions are not always easy. But they’re undoubtedly necessary to stay the course.”
She points out that the effort to decarbonise the aviation industry is “no small feat”, adding: “To achieve this, we need to re-focus all of our efforts on technology bricks that will take us there.”
The E-Fan X, launched in 2017, was due to carry out its maiden flight in 2021.
Vittadini insists that, while the aircraft will “not take to the skies”, the effort invested in the programme has not been wasted.
“To say we’ve learned a lot from this demonstrator project would be an understatement,” she says.
“Over the past three years, each successful E-Fan X milestone has offered us rich insights for the future.”
Vittadini says these include exploration of hybrid architecture, batteries and high-voltage systems, and new carbon dioxide reduction technologies, as well as certification and regulatory knowledge. She adds that Airbus has developed a “more focused roadmap” on progressing with decarbonisation.
“As with all such leading-edge programmes, we constantly evaluate the best way forward and it has become clear to both parties that the actual requirement to carry out a test flight with all the elements integrated is not critical at this time,” says Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Paul Stein.
He says the level of industry interest and support for the E-Fan X programme has been “particularly encouraging”.
“Although our programme with Airbus concludes, we are planning that our power-generation system ground testing will complete, allowing us to demonstrate the technology and capture all the lessons.”