Lufthansa Technik’s plans to turn an A320 into a hydrogen laboratory


The maintenance and repair arm of the Lufthansa Group has announced an exciting new second life for one of its Airbus A320s. The recently retired aircraft will be reused in a hydrogen aviation laboratory for sustainable aviation research.

The aircraft, affectionately named “Halle (Saale)”, will be based at Hamburg Airport, where Lufthansa Technik has its main base of operations.

A new life for Halle as a hydrogen test bed

The aircraft used for the research project originally entered service with the Lufthansa Group in the summer of 1991. It flew for Lufthansa’s main fleet before being transferred to Germanwings from 2014 to 2017, according to data from ch -aviation.

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The Airbus A320, registration D-AIQF, logged over 76,000 flight hours and over 54,000 cycles before it was finally retired in 2020 and sent to Hamburg Airport, where it will now find new life at science department. There, the aircraft will be equipped with a liquid hydrogen tank and a fuel cell to serve as a testbed for research.

The modified aircraft will house a new hydrogen-powered aviation laboratory, designed to study the future of how best to undertake maintenance, repair and overhaul, as well as ground support processes for future aircraft to hydrogen.

The tests will initially take place on a relatively small scale. The newly installed fuel cell will power cooking equipment as engineers seek to understand and develop the technology to extend it to a wider range of uses. Michael Eggenschwiler, CEO of Hamburg Airport, said of the collaboration:

“Climate-friendly flight with hydrogen technology is only possible if the infrastructure on the ground also adapts perfectly. Close coordination is necessary here, and we as an airport are happy to be able to bring our expertise to this important project – from storage and distribution issues to the tarmac refueling process.

At the airport, we are also betting on hydrogen as a technology of the future for our land transport. This project gives us the opportunity to identify and make the most of the synergy effects between gaseous hydrogen, such as that used to refuel our baggage tractors, and liquid hydrogen for refueling aircraft. »

The aircraft will host the Hydrogen Aviation Lab, a joint project to study the future of hydrogen in aviation. Photo: Lufthansa Technik

Hamburg, hydrogen hub

The effort is a joint project between Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center, the ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research and Hamburg Airport. The project is funded by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, already a major hydrogen hub and developing sustainable aviation hub. Hamburg airport was notably the first major commercial airport in Germany to achieve CO2 neutral operations.

The German Aerospace Center will add its long cross-industry experience with hydrogen and focus on the development of the virtual environment. At the same time, the Center for Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL) will contribute its in-depth knowledge of fuel cell technology and digital process mapping.

The partners will use the will to test the effects of liquid hydrogen (LH2) on maintenance and ground processes. Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is gaining increasing attention from the research and development departments of major aircraft manufacturers as a sustainable fuel for future generations of commercial aircraft. The aircraft will be fully equipped with LH2 infrastructure to serve as a functional field laboratory at the Lufthansa Technik base in Hamburg.

The maintenance base has existed in Hamburg since 1951, before Lufthansa was established as a new German airline in 1953. The base now covers over 750,000 square meters and has around 7,500 employees.

The research laboratory will be based in Hamburg, a hub for hydrogen research and development. Photo: Lufthansa Technik

In addition to the headquarters in Hamburg, Lufthansa Technik has maintenance bases around the world. The company provides maintenance support for 20% of the world’s airliners and recently announced an agreement with Avelo Airlines to support its growing fleet of Boeing 737NG aircraft.

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