“The European Union has committed to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030. Starting in 2025, the aviation fuel made available to EU airports should contain 2% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), increasing to 5% by 2030, 32% by 2040 and 63% by 2050. That means we need to give our customers an opportunity to fly carbon free or at least carbon neutral.” So says Dr. David Dörner, Vice President of Global Research and Development Continental Aerospace Technologies. “Since Continental already has a wide range of diesel piston engines, if someone has a Jet-A powered aircraft they can already use the Sustainable Aviation Fuels – the SAFs – currently available. For Avgas engines, it’s a little more difficult, given the current limited supply of fuel sources. But we are working to validate and verify more SAFs and unleaded fuel sources so that our customers have more choices.”
We spoke with Dr. Dörner to find out more about Continental’s plans for its engines, outlook for its customers, and the ‘sustainability question.’
How has Continental worked to prepare its engines for a more sustainable future?As early as 2013 we were already working on fuel innovation and testing, looking at ways of improving the components of our engines, including the cylinders, to try to be more robust, more adaptable. And that’s also the focus of our engineering teams and R&D, to look at how the new SAF fuels as well as unleaded or low-lead will run on our engines.
Will customers have to convert their engines to run on these SAFs?We don’t see the need to change anything, this is about adding choices while adhering to regulations. We are currently validating and certifying new fuels with lower emissions to gauge their suitability for running on Continental engines. For this, we’re working with fuel manufacturers and governing bodies, providing feedback and input for their formulations. Once these fuels pass the specifications for our engines, in terms of reliability and power, there shouldn’t be any need for conversion.
The big question pilots are asking: will their engines still be valid in 2030? We have customers who have invested in a Continental engine, they want to know if they can still use their engine when the lead emissions regulations are mandated. What I can say is that Continental is working diligently with fuel manufacturers to ensure that only the highest quality fuels are verified for our engines. We will never make any compromise on safety or performance.
What about availability, when can pilots expect to see these fuels?I think over the next few years we will see SAFs at more airports, both in Europe and the U.S as well as further afield. We are working with associations who are pushing for this, for progress in this area.
How close is the future of GA—when will we see the next big thing?Continental has invested a significant amount in the future of general aviation. Not just in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, but also in the research and development side. Of course we watch the market, we track progress and research, which means we are also investigating the future, looking at the data on hybrid electric systems and the feasibility of hydrogen combustion engines. But our focus today remains on serving our customers with the most reliable engine that is best suited to their flying needs today. For Continental customers, that can mean flying between 300 and 500 nautical miles in a day. That isn’t feasible yet with novel propulsion systems.
What about the ‘sustainability’ question? For me, in this context, sustainability is about ensuring that pilots can continue flying in the long-term. It is about using the best that technology and engineering can bring to the mix, with validated fuels that don’t compromise the performance or safety of the engine. And it’s about making the right decisions at the right time, for the right reasons. That’s why Continental is working behind the scenes, behind the headlines, to help sustain this industry for the generations to come.