A ground-breaking airside hydrogen refuelling trial, led by easyJet with support from aviation service providers, has been successfully completed at Bristol Airport, in the first ground based trial of its kind at a major UK airport.

Hydrogen was used to refuel and power baggage tractors servicing easyJet passenger aircraft. Conducted as part of the airline’s daily operations, the trial demonstrates that the gas can be safely and reliably used to refuel ground equipment in a busy, live airport environment.

The trial, dubbed Project Acorn, was in development for over a year and involved many other leading organisations from across aviation, engineering, logistics and academia. Partners in Acorn include Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Cranfield University, Connected Places Catapult and DHL Supply Chain.

The group intends the trial as a pilot to develop industry best practice, provide guidance to airports, & airlines, local authorities and regulators on required infrastructure changes.   Establishing a regulatory framework for hydrogen’s use on an airfield is another intended benefit; hydrogen’s nascent status in aviation means this does not exist at present.

Data and insights gathered will also feed into research now conducted by industry body Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA).  Acorn also supports the ambitions of bodies such as Hydrogen South West (HSW) and the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative (HII). The latter co-funded the year-long study.

EasyJet’s chief operating officer David Morgan observed:  “Without doubt, hydrogen will be an important fuel of the future for short-haul aviation.

“While the technology is advancing at an exciting pace, as hydrogen isn’t used in commercial aviation today, there is currently no regulatory guidance in place on how it can and should be used.

“Trials like this are very important in building the safety case and providing critical data to inform the development of the industry’s first regulatory framework. This will ensure regulation not only keeps pace with innovation, but importantly also supports the industry in meeting its decarbonisation targets by 2050.”

Tim Johnson, director for strategy for airport regulator the Civil Aviation Authority, commented: “Projects such as Acorn are cornerstones of our commitment to support innovation and decarbonisation in the industry.

“This trial will serve as the basis of a White Paper which we will also be contributing to, as well as allow for the creation of further safety guidance and regulatory standards for the use of hydrogen in aviation.

For the government, aviation minister Anthony Browne declared: “Project Acorn is a great example of the UK aviation sector pushing the boundaries of what’s possible – using leading engineering to make decarbonisation a reality from the ground operation to the planes themselves.

“They are crucial to achieving our target, set out in the Jet Zero Strategy of zero emission airport operations by 2040.”


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