Airbus told Europe officials in a briefing released on Thursday that most of the airliners will rely on conventional jet engines until at least 2050, with the introduction of Zero-emissions hydrogen restricted to regional and short-range planes.
The planemaker has emerged as a leading champion in the industry for hydrogen propulsion, saying it plans to develop world's first commercial zero-emission aircraft by 2035.
It has not yet said whether the technology will be ready in time for the next important milestone for EU industry - a replacement for the medium-haul A320 in the 2030s - but the February briefing to EU officials appeared to rule this out.
The 2035 Zero-Emission hydrogen aircraft will primarily focus on regional and shorter-range aircraft. Which means that future iterations of highly efficient gas turbines will still be necessary as we approach 2050, specifically for long-haul operations, the presentation said.
Slides from the presentation at the office of European Commission vice-chair Frans Timmermans were released by InfluenceMap, an investor-led climate lobbying watchdog that said it obtained them through a Freedom of Information request.
It is not yet known what market segment the first zero-emission aircraft will target, an Airbus spokesperson said on Thursday, refusing further comment on the February meeting.
Although research remains at an early stage, possible paths to replacement of the A 320 are already a major focus of debate as rival Boeing ponders how to shore up the competing 737 MAX and engine makers focus on evolving gas turbines.
Last week, Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun ruled out using hydrogen on a significant scale before 2050.
Hydrogen has also grabbed the focus in discussions over the British Government's support to aviation during the COVID-19 crisis.
In June of last year, France announced an increase in the funding for the Airbus research body, including 1.5 billion euros over three years for technology such as hydrogen, rescuing 500 out of 15,000 jobs threatened by an Airbus restructuring.
The finance ministry listed five key targets for the investment including a successor to the workhorse A 320, which it said would use hydrogen instead of today's gas turbines and begin service between 2033 and 2035.
The industry officials have played down the possibility of a switch to hydrogen for the replacement of A 320 family because of the aircraft's size and range, and infrastructure needed globally. Airbus says an A 320 lands or takes off every 1.6 seconds.
In any case, Airbus officials say that the research will seed disruptive technology that is likely to play a role in the next generation of airplanes.
As an interim step, Airbus and others have called for more widespread use of good fuels in current aircrafts.
In February's presentation, Airbus carried industry forecasts suggesting that the space category A 320 would be first powered by alternative aviation fuel and possibly some hydrogen from 2050.
A smaller niche between 100 -- 150 seats, which includes its A 220 and Embraer E 2, would use electric power, hydrogen and or SAF in 2040 while only regional 50 -- 100 seaters would be ready for hydrogen in the 2030 s.
Leonardo serves this market currently with its 50-70 seat ATR turboprop joint venture with Airbus in Italy.
In September last year Airbus presented three concepts for a hydrogen plane to enter service in 2035 : Turboprop, a radical-looking twin-engined plane powered by hybrid-hydrogen engines and a more traditional frame planes blended-wing aircraft.
It has said it will go on for a new decarbonised plane in 2025, after the final production chooses Airbus's production. The briefing said that it would be the beginning of a wide range as early as mid--2022, and broad concept was also narrowed to 18,000.