Europe’s Aviation Landscape in 2040

The potential of zero-carbon and zero-emission aircraft on intra-European routes

Imagine flying around Europe without worrying about your carbon footprint. In the not-so-distant future, planes will be 100% electric or will use sustainable fuels. What will the resulting European aviation landscape look like for travellers?

Zero-carbon and zero-emissions aircraft could operate commercially on short-haul routes by 2040

The European aviation sector’s commitment to significantly reduce its emissions and reach carbon-neutrality by 2050 calls for new systems and radical alternatives to kerosene. Sustainable aviation fuels will not be enough, but promising technologies have emerged with the potential to decarbonize the aviation industry in the longer term. Battery-powered airplanes (zero-emissions aircraft) and hydrogen-powered airplanes (zero-carbon aircraft) are currently in the pilot phase but could operate commercially on short-haul routes by 2040

Europe's Future Aviation Landscape

Key takeaways

  • While the current arguments in favour of electric vehicles and rail rely on their low climate footprint, the advent of zero-carbon and zero-emissions aircraft could significantly impact the discourse and drive government support towards the aviation sector.
  • Even with decreased flight range compared to conventional kerosene aircraft, these future aircraft have the potential to cover up to 89% of the intra-EU air travel market in 2040, representing a potential climate impact reduction of up to 59%.
Air Route Distance Segment 
Climate Impact  Travel Costs  Travel time

Up to 500 KM 

298m passengers/year

- 100%  + 10%  + 7%

500 km to 1000 km

380m passengers/year

- 89%  + 8% + 11%

1000 km to 2000 km

379m passengers/year

- 68% + 23%   +5%
  • The competitiveness of zero-emissions and zero-carbon aircraft in terms of emission reductions, and also in terms of the cost and time taken for travel, is examined and found to be dependent on the existing rail, road and air infrastructure on a given route.
  • In combination with rail and EVs, battery-powered and hydrogen-powered airplanes are promising solutions for the decarbonization of short-range mobility. Limitations in infrastructure and capacity for all these modes of transport are key reasons why a combination of solutions may be more effective than a focus on just one.
  • The role of policy-makers and public entities in supporting zero-emissions and potentially zero-carbon aircraft on short routes is crucial for their success.
  • The first step is to analyse the infrastructure requirements needed to integrate zero-emissions and potentially zero-carbon aircraft into the existing air transport network and compare these with the investments needed in the rail and road network, enabling an e-mobility strategy for Europe to be devised.

Discover the potential of zero-carbon and zero-emissions airplanes for the busy intra-Europe short-haul market. Find out about the key features of zero-carbon and zero-emissions planes, read about the market segments they could potentially capture, and explore their promising climate impact reduction potential.

See detailed breakdowns of how zero-carbon and zero-emissions airplanes compare with other forms of transport and learn what it would take to make them a key element in a sustainable and integrated short-range European transport infrastructure. 

If you would like more information about this report or have a question about it,
please contact Willem Christiaan van Manen

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