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Crunching Carbon | Aviation shows the way

Arlanda Airport Sweden

The aviation industry is already taking a leading position on crunching carbon with 20 airports worldwide already able to claim carbon neutrality.

Mobility is a basic human need and airports bring undeniable benefits to society - connecting places, people and products with a range unmatched by any other mode of transport. But travel - and air travel particularly - goes hand in hand with energy consumption and all of its consequences.

As the visible face of air transport on the ground, airports are firmly in the public eye and the onus is on them to work to improve aviation’s reputation in relation to environmental efficiency and carbon reduction.

Following years of working individually to address their local environmental impact, airports are now working in a collective way. The enabler is the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme, a voluntary, independent programme administered by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and run by airports body Airports Council International (ACI).

Launched in 2009 with 18 airports signed up, its been growing steadily since and now boasts 151 airports around the world signed up and working to reduce carbon emissions.



Currently 20 airports in the Europe region have reached the significant level three plus “neutrality” level, representing 13.1% of European air passenger traffic. None are in the UK

Initially, many in the global airport community thought that the scheme should be all encompassing and try to address other contentious issues faced by airports and aviation. However, due to the complexities that this might bring, the ACI in Europe decided to try and focus on just the climate change issue.

“At the time there was a lot of political pressure to invent one big environmental programme which did everything, like noise, and climate change and other things,” says ACI director of media and communications Robert O’Meara. “But we didn’t think that that would work so we zoned in on carbon emissions.

“Europe is a hotbed of environmental innovation.”

The success of the scheme, thinks WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff environmental senior consultant Victor Parrilla Mesa, is down to it being voluntary and its ability to accommodate all different sizes of airports and help them on their journeys to carbon neutrality.

Europe is a hotbed of environmental innovation 

Robert O’Meara

The scheme has four different levels of entry. Level one, “mapping”, is the most basic level and, among other criteria, airports have to calculate their own carbon emissions through an annual carbon footprint report. To ensure that this is a fair process, emissions must be calculated in accordance with either ISO 14064 or the greenhouse gas protocol which are both internationally recognised standards.

“When you can’t measure you can’t manage, so that’s the first step,” says Parrilla Mesa. “That gives them an idea of where the hot spots are for carbon emissions and where they need to focus their energy.”

Level two, “reduction”, requires that airports provide evidence of effective carbon management procedures. WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is on hand here to offer guidance. “We guide them to put a carbon management plan in place, which is about having internal policies and communication plans to try and get the carbon down,” says Parrilla Mesa.

At level three, ‘optimisation’, the airports have to show that they are engaging with other stakeholders in the airport, such as baggage handlers and retailers and work with them to lower their own carbon emissions. They then have to put in place their own carbon management plans. For example, at Hamburg Airport in Germany has introduced an initiative to try to encourage its staff to cycle to work, and it has employed a bike mechanic on site to provide free maintenance.

Tesla sustainable taxis

Tesla sustainable taxis

At Amsterdam-Schiphol, the airport company revised its taxi partnership, making cleaner taxis as a key objective. The airport is now served by a substantial fleet of 167 zero-emission Tesla Model S taxis.

Other simple measures include making the taxi hailing system better; Stockholm-Arlanda was one of the first to act here, by giving exclusive priority to hybrid and electric cars, a move which quickly saw all the airport taxis voluntarily move to these types of vehicle.

Improving collaboration between airports, airlines, ground handlers and air traffic controllers has also helped lower emissions at a number of airports.By sharing real-time updates on operations, over 15 major European airports including Heathrow, Paris Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt, Munich and Brussels have lowered their waiting times for landings and take-offs, which has resulted in less fuel burn, lower CO2 emissions and better punctuality.

Level three plus is full carbon neutrality and the airports are required to neutralise their remaining direct carbon emissions by offsetting.

Practical steps to carbon reduction

There are a number of ways in which airports can address their CO2 emissions. These can include better insulation and energy efficiency, switching to green energy sources, investing in hybrid, electric or gas-powered service vehicles, encouraging employees, passengers & visitors to use public transport, working with airlines & air traffic management to reduce runway taxiing times and implement green landing processes and much more.

The whole scheme is independently administered by WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff who oversee the training of new independent verifiers and help airports to ensure that they have the correct documentation throughout the application process. Once the airports have done their application they are then independently verified to ensure all of the information which has been supplied is correct.

Knowledge transfer is also a major pull for the airports. Annual regional and global conferences give the airports a way of interacting with others of the same size and culture. It also gives ideas for how to communicate with their stakeholders more clearly. And there is a healthy element of competition between the airports says O’Meara.

“You can see the people who come to the conferences, they look over their shoulder and say they have roughly the same traffic as us and they’re at a higher level of accreditation – we need to get there.”

The majority of the airports using the programme are in Europe. There are 104 here, with further 30 in the Asia Pacific region, 10 in North America, four in Latin America and three in Africa.

Currently 20 airports in the Europe region have reached the significant level three plus “neutrality” level, representing 13.1% of European air passenger traffic. None are in the UK.

When you can’t measure you can’t manage, so that’s the first step

Victor Parrilla Mesa

Half of these are in Sweden followed by three in Italy and the remaining are dotted around from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to Ankara Esenboga International Airport in Turkey.

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