Fokker Next Gen partners with airBaltic on new liquid hydrogen powered commercial aircraft



Latvian national airline airBaltic has partnered with Netherlands-based Fokker Next Gen to help develop a new liquid hydrogen powered commercial aircraft, to be manufactured at sites in both countries. The companies have signed a MoU through which the manufacturer will gain insights from the airline to help develop the new plane, while airBaltic will explore how hydrogen-powered aircraft could be used in its network, which currently covers 47 destinations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus region. Fokker Next Gen is planning to build a twin-engine hydrogen aircraft for entry into service by 2035, the same timeline as the Airbus ZEROe hydrogen aircraft programme. The Dutch company is targeting 2028 for the first flight of a Fokker 100 twinjet converted into a hydrogen testbed aircraft. At least three other Dutch companies – Maeve Aerospace, Elysian Aircraft and Electron Aerospace – are also developing low-or-no emission aircraft.


The Fokker Next Gen jet is being designed to carry 120-150 passengers over 2,500 kilometres, powered by both liquid hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel, enabling operation on either fuel depending on availability at destinations.


While configuration studies for the new aircraft will be undertaken this year, with conceptual design modifications for the Fokker 100 testbed due to be completed by year end, early concept drawings promoted by the company show a high-wing narrowbody aircraft with two large wing-mounted jet engines, and hydrogen fuel tanks located in the rear one-third of the fuselage.


Juriaan Kellermann, CEO of Fokker Next Gen, said the partnership with state-owned airBaltic was crucial in the development of an all-new, zero-emission airliner. “Our joint effort not only propels forward innovative aircraft design, informed by direct user feedback, but also boosts the Dutch and Latvian economies,” he said. “This collaboration underscores our shared commitment to pioneering the future of aviation.”


The partnership with the airline flows from the signing late last year of an MoU between Fokker Next Gen and the Latvian Ministry of Economics to develop a hydrogen centre of excellence, a parallel MoU with the Liepaja Special Economic Zone to develop an assembly and testing facility at Liepaja International Airport, and a cooperation partnership with Latvia’s Riga Technical University to collaborate on education, research and innovation.  


The manufacturer is also one of 15 energy and aerospace entities to sign a letter of intent to participate in development of hydrogen infrastructure at Groningen Airport Eelde in the Netherlands, and last year became a member of the Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking, part-funded by the EU.


The airline, which currently operates a single-type fleet of 47 Airbus A220-300 jets, is targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 and considers the Fokker Next Gen partnership a key part of its strategy. CEO Martin Gauss said the agreement also reflected the need for collaboration in developing new technologies for the aviation sector and welcomed “such innovative developments being worked on in the Baltic region.”


“We are excited to sign this MoU and collaborate with Fokker Next Gen by sharing our insights and expertise in their work to develop a hydrogen-powered aircraft,” he said. “We see this as an important step for the future of aviation.”


The new aircraft programme revives Fokker as an active airframe manufacturer almost 30 years after the storied company ceased trading in 1996. The original Fokker aircraft company was established in Germany in 1912 by Dutch aviator Anthony Fokker, before moving to the Netherlands in 1919, commencing the construction of civil airliners in 1920, and later military aircraft. In 1955, it resumed making airliners, commencing with the turboprop Fokker F27 ‘Friendship,’ its successor, the F50, and three twin-engine regional jets, the F28 ‘Fellowship’, the larger Fokker 100, and the F70, an upgraded version of the F28.


The selection of a preferred hydrogen aircraft-and-engine combination is scheduled for 2026, with the concept design of the new hydrogen-powered aircraft to be completed in 2027. 


Test flights of the F100 hydrogen testbed aircraft are scheduled to commence in 2028, as part of the Aviation in Transition programme co-funded by the Dutch National Growth Fund, through which Fokker Next Gen has received a subsidy of €25 million ($27m). From 2030, production of parts for the all-new aircraft is due to commence, with assembly of the hydrogen-powered prototype to begin in 2032 and the first fight in 2033. Entry into service is expected in 2035, the same year Airbus plans to launch its own hydrogen-powered aircraft.


Airbus will use a converted A380 super-jumbo as a testbed for hydrogen propulsion systems and has partnered with airlines and airports around the world to research and develop ground operations for hydrogen aircraft. Under its ZEROe programme, the airframer currently has four concept models under consideration – two 200-passenger, 2,000 nautical mile designs and two 100-passenger, 1,000 nautical mile models.


Elsewhere in the Netherlands, at least three other start-up programmes are also underway for new commercial aircraft.


Electron Aircraft is developing the twin motor, battery-electric Electron 5 to fly up to five passengers more than 500km, or 500kg of cargo up to 750km, from 2028. A round-world test flight is planned for 2027. Maeve Aerospace is developing the 80-passenger M80 aircraft, a hybrid-electric twin-engine commuter plane with range of 1,482km, for entry into service in 2031, while Elysian Aircraft is planning the 90-passenger E9X, an eight-motor, battery-electric model, with 800 kilometres of range, for 2033 entry into service.


Source: GreenAir

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