Circular aviation for green growth EU Green Week event 2021 SUSTAINair project

1st fully circular flight by 2050

On June 8, SUSTAINair hosted an EU Green Week event to discuss solutions based on circular economy enabling aviation industry to reach zero waste and zero pollution of the sector. To achieve fully circular flight by 2050, circular aviation provides a framework for technological solutions reducing aviation´s environmental impact on material consumption, waste, and emissions, beyond in-flight operations.


The SUSTAINair´s EU Green Week Partner EventCircular Aviation for Green Growth,’ brought together almost 200 registered participants. The event aimed to raise awareness about circularity (circular economy) principles within the aviation ecosystem.

The event was divided in two parts, a panel discussion and a showcase session. The panel discussion illuminated the past, present trends, and the outlook for Circular Aviation. The showcase session on key enabling technologies with three Horizon 2020 and one CleanSky research and innovation projects showcased the results and the ongoing research in the field.

The event was opened by the coordinator of the SUSTAINair project, Jürgen Roither, AIT-LKR (Austria), who was also the panel discussion moderator. CINEA´s project officer for the three H2020 showcase projects, Hugues Felix, gave the welcome introduction into the showcase session which was moderated by Stein Janssens, KU Leuven.

The five panellists represented the diverse range of stakeholders within the aviation ecosystem, covering one of the five circular aviation stages: design, manufacturing, maintenance, end-of-life and recycling. Moreover, the panelists represented European research and professional membership organisations, European strategic research programmes, as well as private SMEs and the world largest aircraft manufacturer.

The second part of the event was followed by a showcase session with H2020 and Clean Sky 2 projects working on key enabling technologies while developing cost-effective solutions tackling resource consumption and emissions along the entire aircraft value chain.

First fully circular flight by 2050

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Ligeia Paletti, Circular Aviation theme leader in Future Sky of EREA, and Circular Aviation expert and Living Lab manager at NLR (Netherlands), introduced EREA (Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics) and its flagship programme Future Sky. Circular Aviation is one of the six themes of the Future Sky programme.

Ligeia Paletti explained that the theme of circular aviation came into existence in 2018 with the proliferation of the idea of the circular economy within a working group around the Future Sky Theme 6 on Circular Aviation. Their objective was to design and manufacture air vehicles that are reusable, recyclable and recoverable.

The aim is that at the end of an aircraft lifecycle, we reuse and recycle 85% of an air vehicle and reuse and recover 95% of aircraft parts, focusing on composite materials used in aircraft manufacturing.

The goal of the Future Sky programme is to enable the first fully circular flight by 2050. “We said flight because it is not only about aircraft, it is not only about propulsions, it is about the loop.” Ms Paletti continued that Future Sky on Circular Aviation is helping the industry to close the loop. Where the loop cannot be closed, the EREA is supporting more research, and here where the research establishments come in. “All the discussions within the Future Sky on Circular Aviation led to the development of the SUSTAINair project,” said Ms. Paletti. 

The wild west of aircraft decommissioning

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The next panellist to take the spotlight was Irene Fernandez Villegas, representative of SAMPE (Society for Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering) and associate professor in Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft (Netherlands). 

She gave an overview of the trends observed by this global professional network of members. Among the observed trends are increased interest in sustainable materials and processes, strong interest in thermoplastic composites and short-fibre processes, interest in LCA as a design tool, bio-fibres, and reversible cross-linking.

Additionally, she warned that the amount of currently non-recyclable polymer composites will increase when the current A350 and Boeing 757 arrive at the end-of-life stage. Finding a solution would also benefit the wind turbines industry, where 10% of its non-recyclable materials are composite components.

SAMPE representative´s outlook stresses the need for the development of sustainable business models. Furthermore, she expressed the need to regulate the aircraft decommissioning stage, which is in contrast with non-aviation sectors such as shipping and electronics, not regulated by uniform European regulation.

Materials are AIRBUS´s fast track technology

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At AIRBUS, materials are considered fast track technology, explained the next panellist Isabell Gradert, the Airbus Fast Track Leader for Materials and the General Advisor for Materials Technology to the Chief Technology Officer.

The materials´ strategic and competitive positioning promises the company to overcome future challenges within it and in the industry at large. Ms Gradert presented three main aspects related to circular practices for materials: inflow, reuse, and outflow, contributing to AIRBUS´s pursuit to develop zero-emission aircraft by 2035.

Further on, she gave examples of AIRBUS´s actions for industrial environmental footprint reduction. Among them is the joint venture with TARMAG, which in 2009 pioneered processes related to the aircraft end-of-life stage, complying with the highest environmental and safety practices.

In her outlook for the future, Ms Gradert recognized the need to satisfy several needs enabling the pathway into a sustainable aviation future. Next to coordinated efforts in the aerospace ecosystem and beyond is the need to engage with the entire supply chain and collaborate across industries. Furthermore, aviation needs to start taking open loops seriously by bringing aerospace materials to other industries. Last but not least, the need to share best practices for aircraft end-of-life and harnessing the European digitalization agenda that effectively supports data transparency and traceability demands coordinated policy action.

Transparent and traceable aviation-specific data

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Ms Gradert´s call for transparency and traceability was joined by Sonell Shroff of Clean Sky Joint Undertaking and project officer for EcoDesign. Ms Shroff illustrated the CleanSky initiative to build a common aviation-specific database allowing to carry out also complex live-cycle analysis (LCAs) across various industry partners.

Integration of findings of the LCA in the aircraft´s design stage relates to EcoDesign transversal activity initiated a decade ago within the Clean Sky 1.

EcoDesign´s basic premise is that thinking about end-of-life and recycling needs to be distributed equally across the lifecycle phases of the aircraft, starting with the design phase. All Clean Sky projects are required to tackle development streams with EcoDesign applications and practices in one way or another, and missing aviation-specific data has been an obstacle.

The database we are developing is internal to Clean Sky 2 at this point. But we will be looking at various opportunities to share widely via dissemination actions,“ assured Ms Shroff.

Predicting the future: smart materials and maintenance strategies

One of SUSTAINair´s main objectives is developing strategies for prognostic type of structural health monitoring and repairing similar and dissimilar material combinations. Such novel approaches pose opportunities and challenges for organizations offering MRO services.

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Vytautas Reisas, of Jet Maintenance Solutions, a company of the Avia Solutions Group, explained the challenges of MRO urged to explore new ways for utilization of the aircraft parts with minimal impact on the environment.

With the onset of the circular economy within the high-tech and highly regulated aviation sector, MRO services receive increased commercial and socio-economic value. While the after-market service switch to predictive maintenance, Mr Reisas warned that several challenges of best predicting and planning events (time, location) are still unanswered.

Moreover, he called for more cooperation between researchers and MRO specialists to fill the knowledge gap and provide on-the-job training required to utilise new technology and integration of prognostic systems.

Last but not least, he gave an example of his company´s latest project, a creative solution to total reuse of the aircraft fuselage, giving it new life as a breath-taking decoration. Watch on Youtube here.

Showcase session

MORPHO - Nazih Mechbal

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Starting in April 2021 and spanning 3.5 years – until September 2024- with a budget of €5 million financed by the Horizon 2020 programme, MORPHO is an industrial research project whose ambition is to accompany the development of smart aeronautical structures, namely engine fan blades, to endow them with cognitive capabilities, and to optimise their manufacturing and their life cycle management.

Nazih Mechbal is a full professor at the laboratory of Processes and Engineering in Mechanics and Materials (PIMM – UMR CNRS – CNAM) at Arts et Métiers (science & technology engineering school in France), where he is responsible of the “Dynamic, Structure & Control” (DYSCO) group. 

DOMMINIO - Pablo Romero Rodriguez

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DOMMINIO is an EC funded project, launched on January 2021, as part of Horizon 2020 Programme and part of the Mobility for Growth (MG) call on next generation multifunctional and intelligent airframe and engine parts, with emphasis on manufacturing, maintenance and recycling.

Pablo Romero Rodríguez is R&D Programme Manager at AIMEN Technology Centre focused on Advanced Materials and Advanced Manufacturing on transport sector, promoting R&D activities for new automated and highly digitized manufacturing schemes with an emphasis in laser-based manufacturing, additive manufacturing of high-performance composites as well as digitization of the factories of the future. He is the coordinator of DOMMINIO project funded under the call MG-3-5-2020.

SUSTAINair - Jürgen Roither

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SUSTAINablility increase of lightweight, multifunctional and intelligent airframe and engine parts (SUSTAINair) is a 3,5-year Horizon 2020 project, launched with a virtual kick-off meeting on 26 January 2021. SUSTAINair brings together eleven project partners from 4 countries led by the AIT Center for Low-Emission Transport, a subsidiary of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT-LKR).

Jürgen Roither is the coordinator of the SUSTAINair project. Roither is research engineer in the field of premium light metal alloys. His field of competence is in casting technologies, non-destructive testing, development and technical implementation of sensor technology, process sensing (monitoring) and development.

ecoDESIGN of Clean Sky 2 - Torsten Moll

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FRAUNHOFER Gesellschaft, as the leader of the EcoDesign Transversal Activity (ecoTA) in CleanSky coordinates the developments from the partners and develop new materials, composites and processes to support the European Aviation industry for future applications. 

The presentation was created by Torsten Moll and Rainer Schweppe, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Recording and presentations

The recording of the entire event is available on our YouTube channel here. Additionally, the panellists´ contributions can be watched directly next to the described recap above.

  • 0:00 Welcome Jürgen Roither (AIT-LKR)
  • 9:00 LIGEIA PALETTI, EREA: Slides in PDF
  • 28:15 ISABELL GRADERT, AIRBUS: Slides in PDF
  • 37:20 SONELL SHROFF, Clean Sky Joint Undertaking: Slides in PDF
  • 47:47 VYTAUTAS REISAS, Jet Maintenance Solutions: Slides in PDF
  • 1:03.35 Welcome Stein Janssens, KU Leuven
  • 1:04:45 Project officer at CINEA, Hugues Felix: Slides in PDF
  • 1:13:45 MORPHO H2020 by Nazih Mechbal, PIMM UMR CNRS (FR): Slides in PDF
  • 1:25:38 DOMMINIO H2020 by Pablo Romero Rodriguez, AIMEN Technology Centre (ES): Slides in PDF
  • 1:39:41 SUSTAINair H2020 by Jürgen Roither, AIT-LKR (AT): Slides in PDF
  • 1:53:00 ecoDESIGN® of Clean Sky 2 by Torsten Moll, Rainer Schweppe, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (DE): Slides in PDF
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