Rolls-Royce Sours on Electric Planes, Needs Time for Hydrogen

Company Plans to List Electric Engine-Making Business for Sale
Rolls Royce jet engine
A Rolls-Royce jet engine. (Omer Messinger/Getty Images via Bloomberg News)

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Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc backed away from electric-powered aircraft, with plans to put a business making such engines up for sale and said conventional propulsion will remain the mainstay possibly for the next two decades as hydrogen takes time to mature as an alternative.

“I don’t believe in the next 15, 20 years hydrogen will play a role,” CEO Tufan Erginbilgic said on a Nov. 28 media call. While the company is working on hydrogen technology with discount carrier EasyJet Plc, Erginbilgic said he believes sustainable aviation fuel will be the sole pathway for large jets to achieve net-zero climate targets.

Erginbilgic, a former BP Plc executive, is looking to quadruple operating profit and generate higher cash flow over the medium term. The aviation industry has come under pressure to decarbonize, and Airbus SE, the world’s biggest planemaker, is betting on hydrogen-powered planes entering into service by 2035.

In a separate statement adding on to the CEO’s comments, Rolls-Royce said it remains “committed to developing our hydrogen capability in partnership with EasyJet,” adding that it has “ambitions to take this technology to flight test in the long term.”

Rolls-Royce said Nov. 28 that it planned to dispose of its electrical business that develops propulsion systems for aircraft such as flying taxis. Erginbilgic said the company needed to make “choices on resource allocation” and that the unit would offer “better value to a third party.”

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