Interview of Mr. Hugues Felix (CINEA) on the importance of EU research and innovation (R&I) funding and support for collaborative R&I actions for the aviation sector

Interview of Mr. Hugues Felix (CINEA) on the importance of EU research and innovation (R&I) funding and support for collaborative R&I actions for the aviation sector

October 10th, 2023

Hugues Felix is Project Manager at the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA) established by the European Commission.

He has the responsibility of the technical and administrative management of Research and Innovation projects in the field of civil aviation with a portfolio of 25 projects amounting to 130 M€. Mainly focused on hybrid propulsion, icing detection, hydrogen in aviation and manufacturing, he extended the range with an innovation action project on sustainable airports.

Before the start of his career within the European Commission 12 years ago, he was project manager in the private sector and in charge of building cogeneration plants in Europe with General Electric and Rolls Royce gas turbine engines.

Five sessions in this year's European Aviation and Science Network (EASN) international conference were organised with the support of the EU's Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). Moderated by CINEA Project Adviser Hugues Felix, these sessions included presentations from 25 ongoing CINEA-managed aviation projects, which are funded by the EU programmes for research and innovation (R&I) Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. The sessions covered the following topics:

  • Local Air Quality
  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Safety
  • Hydrogen in Aviation
  • Sustainable Urban Air Mobility (UAM) concepts
  • Digitalisation of Manufacturing, Sustainable Manufacturing and MRO
We talked to Hugues after the event to hear his views on the conference and the importance of EU research and innovation (R&I) funding and support for collaborative R&I actions for the aviation sector.

Once again, thank you Hugues for your support to the EASN Conference in Salerno this year and for your skilled chairmanship of the five sessions! The presence of these projects and of CINEA was a key factor in the success of this year's event. Can you tell us what you appreciated most about the event and how relevant it was for CINEA\'s projects?
Hugues Felix: This event was highly relevant for the CINEA's aviation R&I portfolio, and we were delighted to have the active involvement of 25 of our aviation projects. We organised the sessions by theme to provide a comprehensive and meaningful overview of the projects, and to allow for quality exchanges between the project representatives and stakeholders. We took great care to invite a good variety of projects that reflect the very rich portfolio of projects supported by the EU's research programmes, Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. And I believe that this diversity was one of the reasons why the event generated such a high level of interest from a large community of aviation researchers to inspire them in their future R&I and work.

The event was not only successful in terms of participation with over 400 attendees, but also in the quality of debates and rich audience interaction. To highlight an example, the session on "Hydrogen in Aviation" attended by major stakeholders, research centres and academics, inspired intense interactions between the presenters and the audience, in particular on NOx control and flame stability. As the discussions made clear, hydrogen is a central research area for the sector. It was inspiring to hear from projects such as HESTIA ( and MINIMAL ( that have great potential to help decarbonise the sector.

Q1: You work for CINEA as a Project Adviser covering the aviation portfolio under the EU research programmes. Can you tell us how these programmes and CINEA specifically contribute to aviation R&I?
Hugues Felix: Aviation is one of Europe's main industries of excellence. It contributes to maintaining close to five million jobs and represents over 2% of European GDP. The continuous growth in the demand for air transport worldwide will further increase the sector's economic and social impact. However, this also calls for measures to mitigate its environmental footprint, in terms of green-house-gas emissions, local pollution and noise for instance, as well as to ensure a safe and seamless travel. CINEA has been addressing these challenges through a growing number of collaborative research projects in aviation supported by the EU Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes.
Over the past nine years, CINEA has played a key role in the landscape of aviation research and innovation funded by the EU. Our implementation of the research funding programmes makes an important contribution towards achieving the EU's strategic goals in aviation. The Agency supports R&I aviation projects that are not only improving existing solutions but also, developing truly disruptive, game-changing technologies that could further accelerate the achievement of EU goals and in particular the decarbonisation of the aviation sector by 2050.
Since 2014, our programmes have supported 158 aviation-related R&I projects with a total of €815 million total EU funding in areas such as alternative energy, climate impact and emissions, air quality and sustainable airports, drones and urban mobility, circularity and advanced design, safety and digitalisation.
More than 1000 participants from across the EU - and sometimes beyond - have taken place in these projects. Thriving R&I activities involve industries, SMEs, research centres, academia, public bodies, authorities, and operators. R&I is a key promoter of European environmental sustainability and competitiveness in the global economy.

Q2: What are the main R&I technology areas for greener aviation currently explored projects implemented by CINEA?
Hugues Felix: On the one hand, understanding and developing solutions for the main environmental issues at large. Firstly, on climate impact, not only from CO2 emissions, but also from non-CO2 effects, such as NOx, particulate matter and water-vapour formed contrails, where we implement dedicated projects on this controversial domain.
Secondly, on local air quality, including the effects from NOx, SOx, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter, including large-scale measurement campaigns and data analysis to inform future regulations and standards.
Thirdly on noise, with projects ranging from aero-acoustics phenomena to human perception, from acoustic metamaterials to optimised engine-airframe integration, from noise reduction at the source to operational mitigation measures, in-flight and on-ground.
On the other hand, acting for the step-changes needed for aviation in line with the Green Deal priorities. For instance, by advancing hybrid-electric and hydrogen-based propulsion and boosting sustainable aviation fuel production, including the upscaling of the first solar jet-fuel. The projects activities go from the inception of new aircraft power plants to testing on the ground and even in flight at a reduced scale.
We anticipate the progress of on-board technologies while also catering for the needs from ground infrastructures. Namely, with large-scale demonstration projects at airports, which are making ground terminals and ground vehicles become the early adopters of SAF, green hydrogen and climate-neutral electric power nowadays, while enabling green energy production and supply for the airplanes of tomorrow.

Q3: What other R&I technology areas are explored by aviation projects implemented by CINEA?
Hugues Felix: CINEA also implements innovative projects with AI-based methods and robotic tools for integrated design, manufacturing, certification and MRO of new power-plants and aircraft configurations, including with new types of materials and structures.
Moreover, some projects are advancing drones and urban air mobility (UAM), opening a new chapter not only in aviation but also in infrastructure inspection and in urban mobility and services. One of these projects has showcased the first self-charging drone in the world, which can directly connect on-the-fly to any power grid, extending so its operational range with no need to return to base.
Last but not least, our projects keep on working to ensure the safety level in current and future aviation, from weather hazards as icing to on-board hazards as fire, from human factors in the advent of digitalisation to physical survivability of aircraft and passengers.

Q4: Horizon Europe is a programme which aims at excellence through cooperation. Can you tell us how a collaborative approach as implemented in CINEA's projects makes a difference?
Hugues Felix: Collaborative projects allow universities, research centres, industries and SMEs to develop their new solutions and technologies from the very first idea to the proof of concept, and in some domains up to demonstration in relevant environments with significant financial support from Horizon Europe budget.
Hence, these funding opportunities empower universities, research centres and any other entity, from start-ups, SMEs, suppliers up to OEMs and operators of fleets and infrastructures, to plan, structure and implement their research approaches and to develop a pipeline of projects to accelerate the green transition of the aviation sector.
While collaboration means that each participant brings his specific expertise and competence in the search of an optimal solution, it should be noted that industrial partners are key participants in collaborative projects, and they are instrumental to bring ideas from low technology readiness levels (TRLs) to middle TRLs (4-5).
I would also like to emphasise that collaborative research plays an important role for SMEs as it allows them to develop their new solutions/technologies and services together with other European partners. In addition, they allow companies to connect with leading knowledge networks in their sectors and to boost their economic growth and industrial competitiveness.
We should not forget the key role that academics play in R&I projects. In fact, universities are very well placed to create space for exploration of truly disruptive ideas. Their contribution is fundamental for collaborative and interdisciplinary innovation.

With this diversity of contributors, our collaborative projects demonstrate every day their capacity to research and develop solutions for the much-need green transition of aviation. Some collaborative projects pioneered and flight-test hybrid-electric and hydrogen propulsion, at a time when other larger R&I initiatives in the EU were not even considering those technologies. Their work paved the way for a more ambitious EU aviation research & innovation at large nowadays. The presence of a large number of significant projects at EASN 2023 conference, shows the continued importance of supporting 'bottom-up' collaborative R&I, both in low and medium-TRL to prepare the numerous transitions that the sector has to undergo in the near future.

Q5: What other programmes of relevance for aviation are implemented by CINEA?
Hugues Felix: Beyond the kind of aviation research and innovation I have just described, our unit in CINEA is also in charge of implementing all the R&I projects from several large-scale Public-Private-Partnerships, including the co-programmed partnerships for Batteries and for Electric Vehicles. Our unit is also in charge of the Horizon Europe Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission.
These large-scale initiatives count with hundreds of million euro and embrace a broad range of TRLs. These Partnerships and Mission allow synergies also with aviation, from next-generation lighter batteries and more innovative electric vehicles systems up to societally-accepted urban air mobility.
Finally, let me remind that CINEA is the European Commission's agency also in charge of more than 50 billion euro for deployment programmes, also relevant for aviation.
On the one hand, "Connecting Europe Facility" (CEF) for infrastructures for energy and transport, which co-finances electric, SAF and hydrogen-related interventions in airports - in addition to deployment of ATM solutions from SESAR and of military mobility infrastructure.
On the other hand, "Innovation Fund", which reinvests revenues from sectors in the Emission Trade System (ETS, such as aviation) into large-scale net-zero industry upscale and operation, with already a couple of projects in aviation (e.g. large-scale production of SAF in Sweden, and large-scale batteries reuse at Rome airport).
Moreover, the environmental programme LIFE includes projects on nature-based solutions for SAF, climate adaptation of airports and recyclability of aviation parts and operations.
All in all, with these EU Green Deal programmes at CINEA, we can provide an efficient and open service to all stakeholders in order to devise, develop, demonstrate and deploy together the aviation of tomorrow.