We are without a doubt experiencing the most turbulent times in aviation since the first commercial flights took to the skies. An industry with a passenger demand growth rate of about 6% in 2019 (link) has seen its numbers plummet to the ground in a very short time due to the global pandemic. Left and right major airlines must cut their expenses drastically. KLM, the Dutch national airline, is expected to drop around 5000 employees of which 1500 will be forced redundancies (link). British Airways is set to cut up to 12,000 jobs (link), Airbus 15,000 jobs (link), Emirates 30,000 (link) and the list goes on and on. As long as there is no fully working vaccine, the airline industry will not be back to business as usual. This time forces everyone in the industry to rethink their strategies. Pre-covid business models do not work any longer and must be reimagined.

This sounds like a horrible time to be active in aviation and I do agree that for most airlines, it is. Where I beg to differ is with the aircraft manufacturers and in research and development. This is the perfect time to reimagine, pioneer and implement new technologies that will shape the post-covid future of general and commercial aviation. The transition to new business models allows for more effort and attention to be given to sustainable solutions and to step away from the traditional ways of working. In this blog, I will describe what impact the pandemic has on AeroDelft as a team and I will showcase what the coming year has in store for us.

AeroDelft and COVID-19

On the 11th of March 2020, the spread of the coronavirus was officially dubbed a pandemic. The 11th of March was for AeroDelft a day in the middle of the production phase of the Phoenix prototype (Phoenix PT). We had just finished our first test mould of one of the fuselage halves and were planning on finishing the rest of the structural parts soon after that. Sadly, our production facilities in the Dream Hall at the TU Delft closed which meant that we could not produce. It became quite clear that the deadline for our maiden flight of the prototype on the 11th of July 2020 would not be reached. The delays in the production phase were too severe.

All team members worked from home as much as possible, but one can imagine that our moulds, often reaching over three meters in length, could not fit in a student dorm. We had to find a new place to continue our manufacturing process. In the following weeks, some of the laminating and building took place in Haamstede in the backyard of one of our team member’s girlfriend’s parents. This illustrates the severity of our logistical problems in these times… AGO, one of our Platinum partners, realised this and helped us out tremendously by offering us a part of their workspace in Kortrijk, Belgium at the AGO Headquarters (link). We used this space during the full summer to work on the structure of Phoenix Prototype. Now that the summer holidays are over, most of last year’s team members are back to studying which means being back in Delft.

The second wave of COVID-19 in the Benelux combined with this partial availability has slowed us down again but we have found a new space a bit closer to home approximately 25 minutes by bike. Having the production facility close to Delft is crucial as it makes it easier for our engineers to work on the aircraft. More info on the new production facility soon! Check our socials to stay up to date.

What’s next?

As mentioned before, we are working full speed ahead on Phoenix PT. The manufacturing and integration will be completed, soon after which we will transition to the testing phase which is a lengthy process. Thanks to our partners at the NLR, we are being helped tremendously and once it comes to flight testing our aircraft, we will be flying it under their flag at a safe location. In January we will be holding our model reveal event where we will be presenting the fully built Phoenix PT including our hydrogen system.

Alongside the Phoenix PT project, we have started the design phase of Phoenix FS, the 2-seater full-scale aircraft. We will be incorporating all the knowledge we have gained from Phoenix PT into the hydrogen system of Phoenix FS.

The emphasis of the design for full-scale is on safety since flying an aircraft with a pilot in it requires stricter requirements. These requirements have largely not yet been developed for hydrogen which is something we hope to contribute to this year with our partners.

In the summer of 2021 (end of July or beginning of August, TBA!) we will be holding our big event. During this event, Phoenix PT will fly on liquid hydrogen for the first time in public at an airport. Next to this flight, we will be showing off Phoenix FS and the progress on the propulsion system that will be mounted into the aircraft. This will give all the visitors the chance to see the technology in real life and experience its power. The event will be freely accessible for partners, friends, and family. It will also be accessible for the public for a ticket fee (TBA!).

For now, I would like to thank you for your time. To keep yourself in the loop, make sure to follow us on all our social media platforms, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook. Do not forget to subscribe to our newsletter! Our future flies in clean skies!