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With regards to sustainable aviation, it is all about the ability to innovate and the willingness to pool resources and skills, says Prof. Rolf Henke, aviation coordinator in the state of Bremen since 2021. AVIASPACE BREMEN e.V. sat down to talk with him about the opportunities and advantages of Bremen as a centre for aviation and the significant contribution the city can make to the global goal of ‘zero emission aviation’.
Professor Henke, do you see working towards ‘zero emission aviation’ as an opportunity for the aviation industry to emerge from the crisis and be fit for the future?
Prof. Rolf Henke: “The aviation industry must become more sustainable – the product aircraft as well as its operation. In my opinion, there is no way around this. For a long time, it has been so much more than simple possibilities. In other words, the pressure to develop is higher than ever and the industry has long since recognised the need to act. ‘Clean aviation’ is the only way into the future.
What exactly is sustainable aviation about?
“Acting sustainably means that we must no longer overstretch the Earth’s regenerative capacity. For the aviation industry, the focus is therefore shifting to a more resource-conserving, circular economy. Stage one is the reduction of emissions from individual missions. Stage two is to make ground processes and operations emission-free, including maintenance and repair. Finally, stage three involves a complete emission-free life cycle of the aircraft product – from development to end-of-life.”
In your view, what are the most promising approaches on the road to the Green Deal?
“The problem is, there is no one simple solution to make aviation sustainable by Day X. From my point of view, it is the sum of many approaches that will put us on the right track. Less drag and less weight means less fuel consumption, so it’s about field of technology, such as fluid dynamics and lightweight construction, the development of electric or hybrid engines and the big issue of propulsion energy, such as hydrogen.
In addition to the engines, the wing is a decisive component in which aerodynamics, structure, sensor technology and control systems will grow closer together in the future. Environmentally optimised routing is also a decisive lever. It can be calculated on which route, and at which altitude, the lower environmental impact is to be expected. This means that each flight is no longer optimised according to fuel consumption, but according to the lowest environmental impact, the smallest ecological footprint. This in turn requires atmospheric models and the corresponding technology both on the ground and in the air.”
Where does the aviation industry currently stand in this development?
“In terms of the state of research on the subject of environmentally optimised routing, which must be secured and, above all, used, Germany is a global pioneer. In order to take the decisive next steps here, we need the instruments of politics – decisions, regulations and adapted charging models. Of course, research on this will also cost money. In my opinion, this is a worthwhile investment, because in addition to a promising perspective, jobs will also be created.”What can be done to boost the goal of zero emissions aviation?
What can be done to boost the goal of zero emissions aviation?
“It is about opening up the design space for new ideas and other players, to reimagine things in a new way. This way of thinking makes aviation companies exciting employers for the next generation in the industry. Moreover, speed and success in the development of future-proof technologies strongly depend on whether we manage to bundle already existing expertise for an overall system.”
How far along is Bremen in this respect?
“The know-how on eco-efficient flying is firmly rooted in Bremen’s companies and research institutions. The stakeholders in the industry are already pooling their expertise, and we have recently formed a joint round table and sit down together regular to discuss these things. This offers many opportunities for collaborations, as well as the low-threshold expansion of the round to trend-setting think tanks. Whether aviation research, development, manufacturing, suppliers, operations or flight safety, whether academic or practical training, Bremen is home to a highly concentrated group of expertise on aviation.”
To what extent does Bremen, as a centre for aviation, have a unique selling point here?
“In addition to the diversity that was described, Bremen has another advantage: the short distances. Developing a forward-looking strategy for global aviation is so much easier when experts from all areas of aviation, but also politics, are practically sitting door to door.”
The topics of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System), is also very important in Bremen. To what extent are they decisive for the Green Deal?
“First of all, the topics of UAS is very topical again due to new EU regulations. In general, many technical impulses or innovations are finding their way from smaller aircrafts to the larger ones, for example, by increasing automation or electric propulsion. This makes the so-called drones exciting, especially with regard to transport aircraft. Three fields of activity can be distinguished around the topic of drones: the aircraft including its sensors, the operation including payload, and the control including ground stations, as long as they are not autonomous. From Bremen, for example, sensors for pollution detection, ground stations for operation and approval facilities can come as service providers. Many topics can already be seen in the use of drones today, such as parts transportation, monitoring of wind turbines or ship exhaust, control centres for deployment scenarios and much more. This will develop and grow, and Bremen should participate in this. If we do it right, it will be both a technology driver and another building block on the way to sustainable mobility.”
What tools do the federal and state governments use to bring small and medium-sized enterprises along on the path to sustainable flying?
“An important tool here are the funding programmes, such as the Bremen Aeronautics and Space Research Programme (‘LuRaFo’ – Bremer Luft- und Raumfahrt-Forschungsprogramm), the federal government’s aeronautics research programme ‘LuFo Klima’ and various European programmes for developments in the areas of aircraft and operations. Of course, these are only the programmes with direct aviation relevance, plus SME initiatives, hydrogen and digitization strategies and more.”
What do you think is needed now (in addition) in concrete terms?
“In my view, it is imperative that these subsidies be adapted to the necessary common goal already mentioned. So what is absolutely needed is first of all a coordinated strategy at the state, federal and EU levels. One example of this is the European aviation vision “Fly the Green Deal”, which was recently presented to Vice Chancellor Dr Robert Habeck at the International Aerospace Exhibition (ILA) in Berlin. The fact is: we need to do more and more targeted research. In addition, directly funded real laboratories are important in order to test the first prototypes at an early stage and, if necessary, also to learn from failure; this would definitely bring speed to development with the goal of sustainability.”
You also advocate for looking at mobility as a whole, in terms of sustainability. What exactly is the idea behind this?
“Every travel plan begins for each of us with the balancing of costs, comfort and speed, with individual variations of this balance. In addition, there is, fortunately, an increasing demand to do as little harm to the environment as possible. The same applies to transport chains in logistics which, on the one hand, should be and must be planned efficiently, and on the other hand also be ecologically and socially responsible. These are the famous “three pillars of sustainability” defined by the UN. In this context, it simply makes no sense to deliberately exclude one mode of transportation instead of focusing on organising mobility as a whole in an environmentally friendly way. So, whether it is by land, sea or air, the important thing is to reach my destination while saving resources in as many ways as possible. What is at stake is a cross-structural re-thinking in the direction of a technology, energy and mobility philosophy for which we ideally all pull together in one direction. There is not one means of transport that is bad and another one good, we have to include all factors and achieve sustainable mobility on the basis of a sustainable energy supply.”
About Prof. Rolf Henke
Professor Rolf Henke has been aviation coordinator for the state of Bremen since the beginning of 2021. The task of the coordinator is to expand Bremen’s international standing as a leading centre for aviation by promoting and bringing together the location’s competencies in business and science and coupling it with the know-how of academia and skilled workers.
Professor Henke is an international recognised aviation expert. He worked for Airbus in Bremen for 20 years, headed the Institute of Aerospace Systems at RWTH Aachen University, where he still teaches today, was responsible for aviation as a board member at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and was the long-standing President of the German Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics (DGLR).
About the aeronautics and space coordinators of the state of Bremen
One coordinator for aviation and one coordinator for space travel were commissioned by the Minister for Economic Affairs, Labour and Europe to strengthen and further develop the aeronautics and space location of the state of Bremen. Professor Rolf Henke (Aviation) and Siegfried Monser (space) were entrusted with the tasks. It is important to maintain direct contact with Bremen’s companies, institutions and politicians and to support the interests of the state of Bremen with regard to the further development of the aeronautics and space industry. This task also requires close coordination with the German federal states, the federal government, and the EU. The coordinators act as ambassadors for Bremen.