Rolls-Royce and Airbus agree to end hybrid-electric E-Fan X program

Rolls-Royce and Airbus have decided to conclude the hybrid-electric engine project, E-Fan X, placing a minor setback for sustainable methods of propulsion in commercial air travel.

The hybrid-electric engine was due to be tested on this Avro RJ100. Photo courtesy of Airbus

Launched in 2017, the E-Fan X program set out to create a hybrid-electric engine for commercial aircraft. The engine was due to have its first flight test in 2021, attached to an Avro RJ100. However, both companies have announced on Friday 24th April to abandon the experiment.

Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer said that a “joint decision” was agreed “in partnership with Airbus” and brought a conclusion to the E-Fan X program. Both Airbus and Rolls-Royce thanked all their partners, engineers, and designers who have contributed to the project over the last 3 years. It is seen as a minor setback for the possibility of hybrid-electric propulsion for commercial aviation. Rolls-Royce sighted that it became “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”. The engine manufacturer added that the purpose of this program was to develop a hybrid-electric engine for demonstration purposes only and the E-Fan X was “never intended for actual use as a product in service”. Despite concluding the program with Airbus, the UK engine manufacturer said that it will continue ground testing their power generation system. In an effort to accelerate future technologies of alternative propulsion, the project received funding from both the UK and EU governments, so the aviation industry could achieve its goal of a 50% reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions by 2050. However, both companies have made significant progress in the last 3 years and according to Paul Stein, the learning from this project has placed them “in an industry-leading position”.

In a statement, Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini said: “Decarbonising the aviation industry is no small feat. To achieve this, we need to re-focus all of our efforts on technology bricks that will take us there. It’s for this reason that Airbus and Rolls Royce have jointly decided to bring the E-Fan X demonstrator to an end.” She added that “it’s our duty to constantly evaluate and reprioritise them to ensure alignment with our ambitions. These decisions are not always easy. But they’re undoubtedly necessary to stay the course.”

Regardless of the project’s cancellation, Airbus and Rolls-Royce received an encouraging level of industry support and interest in the hybrid-electric engine and they remain confident that cross-industry partnerships similar to this will bring competitive zero-emission solutions in the future.

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