Europe’s Zero-Carbon and Zero-Emission Aviation Landscape in 2040


Europe’s Aviation Landscape in 2040

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

Sustainability in aviation is a hot topic. In 2021, Deloitte investigated the potential shift towards a more sustainable aviation industry in Europe by 2040. This report demonstrated that battery-powered and hydrogen-powered airplanes have the potential to cover up to 89% of the intra-EU air travel market in 2040. Which represents a potential climate impact reduction of up to 59%. These future airplanes in combination with rail and EVs are promising solutions for the decarbonization of short-range mobility.

Electric aviation is expected to take off in the coming years according to another recent Deloitte study for the Dutch House of Representatives. Experts assume that 9- and 19-pax battery-electric aircraft will be available by 2030, and 40- and 80-pax hydrogen-electric by 2040. However, given the lower range and passenger capacity of electric aircraft, more Air Traffic movements (ATMs) are needed to accommodate the future demand.

To cover routes shorter than 500 km to or from the Netherlands with electric aircraft, ATMs would need to increase by at least ~47% by 2050, whereas ATMs in the Dutch Caribbean islands would need to increase by at least ~19% and 14% by 2050 for the ABC- and SSS-islands, respectively. The increase in ATMs can be accomodated in the Carribean if there is sufficient supply of green energy. For the Netherlands the increase should be compensated by a shift to train for existing rail connections or a distribution of flights to regional airports.

Today, the aviation industry, like many others, is still recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the rollout of vaccines and the gradual easing of travel restrictions, commercial aviation flights across the European Union have been able to rapidly increase to numbers close to pre-pandemic levels . People are increasingly looking to travel and reconnect with friends, family, and business partners outside the confines of virtual environments. 

The industry, however, still needs to adapt to a new normal. Environmental regulations in Europe are rapidly increasing and governments and airports are taking proactive measures to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. 

For instance, Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands became the first airport in the world to propose a cap on the number of commercial and private flights it will welcome per year, as ongoing incremental fuel efficiency developments in commercial fleets prove to be insufficient to comply with national emissions regulations. Similarly, France recently announced a ban on short-haul flights as part of its green transport proposals. 

These environmental regulations are expected to have a significant impact on the aviation industry in the coming years and aviation stakeholders will have to rapidly adapt their business model to retain their license to operate. The rapid development of battery and hydrogen electric airplanes offers a significant opportunity to reduce the industry's environmental footprint, which could allow airlines to operate within new regulatory environment and prevent further increases in restrictions.

Fast-growing companies such as ZeroAvia, Eviation, and Heart Aerospace are at the forefront of this technology, offering promising solutions to the industry's emissions challenge:

  • ZeroAvia, who is developing hydrogen-fueled powertrain technology to retrofit existing aircraft and power future models, has flown the largest hydrogen-electric aircraft to date (a 19-seat testbed aircraft) and is aiming for commercial flights by 2024
  • Eviation has recently conducted the first test flight of its new 9-seater commuter electric aircraft, named Alice 1, and plans to start production in 2024 for first deliveries to customers by 2027
  • Heart Aerospace recently unveiled their new airplane design, called the ES-30, which is a regional electric airplane with a capacity of 30 passengers and expected to enter into service in 2028

These developments show promising progress towards a more sustainable aviation industry in the near future. Yet there is still much work to be done.

The aviation industry should therefore start planning now, as integrating battery and hydrogen electric aircraft into the existing infrastructure requires careful planning and investment. Airlines need to reimagine the flying experience and adjust their operations to accommodate the unique characteristics of these new aircraft. Infrastructure upgrades will also be necessary across a vast network of airports, including the construction of new charging and refueling stations. By doing so, the industry will ensure its transition towards a more sustainable, efficient, and enjoyable aviation experience for all.

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.


Europe’s Aviation Landscape in 2040

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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