Hang out the flags. Flying large aircraft over long distances on electricity can be done. If you have any doubts about this, just read the ‘Toekomst Maastricht Airport’ (the future of Maastricht Airport, in Dutch) policy document of the Province of Limburg that was published this spring. ‘The future of electric aviation is […] not dependent on fundamental research, but on certification for the combination of tested technologies (sic).’ Recent TU Delft research confirms this, claims the Province.
This is utter nonsense. According to TU Delft researchers, much research is still needed and nothing is definite yet. But it seems that in Limburg they are already preparing for electric aviation. This is the airport’s raison d’être, states the report. Earlier this month Limburg took the decision to keep the airport open and, as the CDA political party council member Wouter IJpelaar said, to invest in an “airport that is in greater harmony with the surroundings”, reported the NRC newspaper recently.
You asked the Province for a statement and explanation, as we did. Unsuccessfully to date. You are very unhappy about this.
“Yes, I am outraged. It is not certain at all if batteries with a large enough energy density and lifespan to enable flying large distances will ever be produced. It is a mystery managed to have us state the opposite. I do not know if there were bad intentions behind it, but at the very least it was careless. And I will fight it.”
Does it happen more often that your Faculty is misused by lobbyists?
“Selective shopping around for research and twisting the conclusions does happen. We are aware of this. I think a lot of academics in different faculties experience this.”
But it looks like it goes to extremes at AE. The Schipholwatch website reports (in Dutch) that you are now avoiding aviation lobby meetings because of the lies that have been said there. Your presence should serve to legitimise false claims.
“That is not very nuanced.”
‘I want to put the idea that we do not work with the aviation industry right. We do work with them.’
Schipholwatch quotes from an email exchange between you and a former colleague in which you write ‘That TU Delft is brought into this is just another example in which the parties involved try to give legitimacy to what they proclaim.’ And, ‘It has become so bad that we are intentionally avoiding certain meetings. We know ahead of time that we will have to deal with a lobby group which has a panel of ‘experts’, many of whom do not have the relevant knowledge. We are just invited as an excuse.’
“I did email that, but I wanted to put the idea that we do not work with the aviation industry right. We do work with them. We see it as our moral duty to share our knowledge with society and/or industry and in doing so to help make the world a better place. And make no mistake, the aviation industry is really working on making aviation more sustainable. We work on this with companies like Airbus, Schiphol, KLM, Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) as well as smaller companies. Our target, as stated in Flying Vision (a cooperation agreement signed this spring, Eds), is that aviation is climate neutral by 2050. This is highly ambitious, but we do need to achieve this and to do so need to look into all sorts of wild ideas about technology. We are keen to do this with serious partners. Unfortunately, we sometimes come across companies that do not really know what they are talking about. We mostly see this in some start-ups that spring up all over the world and have a naive picture about how to make aviation more sustainable.”
Start-ups usually have higher expectations about battery technology than you do. What are you mostly concentrating on?
“We are looking more at hydrogen technology, at electric engines that work on hydrogen fuel cells. But we are open to everything, as long as it is not in conflict with the laws of nature.”
Do you not think that sustainable aviation is a utopia?
“The aviation industry cannot continue to grow unchecked. That is clear. In our Faculty we are very aware that flying is polluting and that is why we only fly if it is absolutely necessary. Whenever we can, we take the train, such as to conferences for example. But worldwide, flying will still being done at a huge scale. So it is better to make sure that flying becomes much more sustainable.”