Aircraft may be lessening their carbon footprint, but what about airports?
Today’s passenger aircraft are becoming ever more efficient, driven by regulations like the EU’s emissions trading scheme and airlines looking to squeeze profit out of every drop of fuel saved.
Yet on the ground, airports operate in a different class. New findings from a European Union-funded research project show that commercial airports use as much energy as a small city, and up to one-fifth of that may be wasted.
Aircraft operating within the EU, along with energy and industrial sectors, fall under the Emissions Trading System that aims to cut emissions. While an EU law (Regulation 598) on regulating airport noise is due to take effect in a year, there is no similar EU legislation on emissions, and some political leaders want to change that.
Sergi Alegre Calero, the vice-mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, home to Barcelona’s airport, is one of them. Alluding to the ETS and other pollution laws, he says: “It has happened in the car industry, it’s going to happen in the shipping industry, it’s happening in building and construction, so [airports] cannot get out of that.”
Calero is president of the Airport Regions Conference (ARC), which represents European municipalities close to international airfields. He favours an EU mandate to cap airport emissions, though he says the legislation should give airfield operators and communities leeway in how they comply.
Aviation contributes 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and airports are believed to account for about 5 percent of that figure. Even in the absence of EU-wide mandates, many of the EU’s busiest airports have already taken steps to reduce their environmental footprint.
The Airports Council International’s Europe operation, which represents 450 fields in 45 countries, has voluntary standards aimed at slashing the environmental impact of ground operations. The group identifies 20 European airports carbon-neutral.
They’ve achieved this partly through operational improvements for aircraft, switching to hybrid and electric service fleets, improving public transport links and providing terminal-to-aircraft power links so planes don’t have to use on-board generators while parked at gates.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of the Airports Council International in Europe and Angela Gittens, worldwide director of ACI, said in a recent joint statement on airports certified by its Airport Carbon Accreditation programme: “An impressive 1.67 billion air passengers now travel through airports certified at one of the 4 levels of the programme – equivalent to 26.5 percent of global air passenger traffic. Most promisingly we are seeing a lot of airports moving up the levels of the programme - making real progress in the way they manage their carbon footprints.”
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Airport image via Shutterstock.