Airports’ Eco-Friendly Efforts to Go Green

22 July 2008 (Last Updated July 22nd, 2008 18:30)

Airports everywhere are heeding the call to go greener or risk unsustainable climatic and financial consequences. Fleur Doidge checks out the environment.

Airports’ Eco-Friendly Efforts to Go Green

Acts of corporate social responsibility can yield genuine financial benefit as well as competitive advantage, according to recent research by leading information technology company IBM. It's a growth opportunity; it's not just about compliance with new red tape and it's not just about the public and its ever-fickle views. So, airports everywhere are implementing ambitious environmental initiatives in the face of expected climate change.

January 2008 saw the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) award a S$300m tender for its next-generation air traffic control to Thales for its long-range radar and display system III, an extra-efficient system that not only features the latest communications technologies but should help air traffic controllers get the planes in and out of Changi International Airport that much faster.

Lim Kim Choon, CAAS director-general, believes LORADS III will enhance safety and efficiency. "More efficient air traffic management will bring about greater efficiency for airlines which in turn translates to more fuel savings," he says.

LORADS III is a small symptom of what's happening everywhere.

In the US, specialist consultancy the Clean Airport Partnership's (CAP) Green Airport Initiative (GAI), is a tool several US airports are using to guide their future development – enabling them to lift their environmental standards while still sustaining growth.

DALLAS FORT WORTH AIRPORT

According to CAP, Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport in Texas is rapidly becoming a model green airport. As part of GAI, DFW has committed to cleaner air, lower emissions and increased energy efficiency in a comprehensive programme influencing all aspects of the airport's operations.

DFW is working to cut emissions from all landside vehicles, including taxis and delivery trucks, as well as promoting carpooling and public transport. It's also altering traffic flow around the airport to further cut emissions.

20% of DFW emissions are from ground support equipment, 62% from aircraft and 2% from auxiliary aircraft power units, according to CAP. "Recommendations include expanding the use of advanced technology vehicles and minimising or eliminating vehicles through advanced terminal design," CAP says. "An airport-wide policy [will] induce airlines to minimise fuel use and reduce emissions."

Renewable energies are being considered for power supply where possible. DFW is also working hard at quantifying emissions, in order to construct a baseline beyond which emissions can be assessed and apply for emissions credits. Committees and lobbying at airport, local and government level are considered an important adjunct to the plan.

FORT LAUDERDALE HOLLYWOOD AIRPORT

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood (FLL) airport, in popular tourist destination Florida, is another of CAP's projects. By January 2006, all 57 of its airport shuttles and trams ran on low-emission B-20 bio-diesel fuel – a mixture of 80% petroleum and 20% bio-diesel fuel. "The use of bio-diesel fuel in the airport's vehicles [may] eliminate the need to burn 150,000gal of fossil fuel annually," FLL said in a release.

"Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport in Texas is rapidly becoming a model green airport."

CAP has audited FLL's air and water quality, solid waste, noise and energy consumption, and made recommendations, many of which are currently underway. Directed programmes are the name of the game, rather than market-based or demand-management strategies.

"GAI is not a mechanism for trading off airport growth for environmental quality but a strategy for enhancing both, in contrast to the traditional master planning process," CAP says.

CAP said installing lower-flow toilets, sinks and urinals, for about US$234,000, would cut FLL's own potable water use by a third and give ROI in ten months. Irrigation efficiency could also be improved, following an appropriate audit. Excess watering wastes water and ruins local soil. Tenant water use, furthermore, could be controlled by deploying a centralised monitoring system.

CAP believes FLL could save 18% of its power bill, with ROI varying by the efficiency of the specific energy-savings projects chosen. Meanwhile, a new construction and renovations policy, exploration of renewables such as solar power, more efficient and fewer lights, chillers, boilers, air conditioners and the like as well as demand-related controls for ventilation and escalators are also expected to save millions of dollars in electricity, and emissions, each year.

Solid waste reduction also helps 'green' an airport and can be an indirect way of reducing overall emissions. Simple practices such as installing electric hand dryers instead of paper towel dispensers and purchasing products in bulk to minimise packaging, as well as limiting the use of disposable products by tenants can all contribute alongside a recycling programme.

It might sound like FLL still has a long way to go before sustainability – yet, according to CAP, it could well be a model green airport and is a good example of what could be done.

"[FLL] does an excellent job of waste collection and recycling; however, waste collection for restaurants and fixed based operators at FLL is provided by a variety of vendors. Having one centralised vendor provide these services provides multiple advantages," CAP says.

A GLOBAL MOVEMENT

"GAI is not a mechanism for trading off airport growth for environmental quality but a strategy for enhancing both."

2007's two-day Sustainable Airport Management forum in Madrid saw many leaders in the field come together for the first time to discuss their wins and losses as well as strategies for the future.

The international roll-call of those who have committed to greener airports is lengthening, it seems, rapidly: Hong Kong, Munich, Auckland, Christchurch NZ, Phoenix, Frankfurt, Toronto, Arizona, Los Angeles, Athens, Zurich, Arlanda, Aéroport de Paris are just a few examples.

THE FUTURE OF AIR TRANSPORT IN THE UK

In the UK, the Department for Transport's 2003 white paper 'The Future of Air Transport', 2006 white paper progress report, and various consultation papers on European Union initiatives such as the plan to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme, have all informed the aviation industry's response.

According to the Airports Council International 31 January worldwide airport environmental initiatives tracker, BAA's airports are aiming at cutting CO2 emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by 2010. This is being achieved through improved energy efficiency, conservation and use of renewable energy sources.

BAA says it is also continuing to invest in public transport access. And BAA is a member of the UK-based Sustainable Aviation organisation – a coalition of the willing looking to green the industry without damaging its prospects.

BAA Heathrow has instigated an airport staff travel plan dubbed Changing Direction for all 70,000 employees, covering travel to, from and around the airport as well as discounted public transport travel, carpooling, incentives to walk or cycle as well as emissions checks for vehicles.

Jersey Airport has been recycling old runway concrete as pavement. Stansted has been using cut grass as fertiliser. The grass must be cut to discourage birds – so it has started composting and recycling the tons of grass involved. Leeds has deployed recycling of cardboard and old newspapers or magazines, glass and scrap metal.

"BAA says it is ensuring that energy efficiency is built into new facilities' design."

Manchester International Airport – the UK's second largest – is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2015. Its commitment includes developing nature trails, such as its 75-hectare runway 2 trail that boasts potential carbon sinks such as new woodlands and grasslands as well as wildlife sanctuaries, according to environment manager Tim Walmsley.

"This represents a significant milestone in the six years of environmental projects since the 2001 opening of Runway 2," he says.

BAA'S ATTEMPTS TI REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS

BAA says on its website that its objective is to help mitigate climate change. "Climate change is a concern for all businesses, but BAA is one of the UK's major energy users and air travel is a small but growing source of greenhouse gas emissions," it said. "It is our objective is to reduce our CO2 emissions from energy use 30% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, despite passenger numbers growing 130% during that time."

BAA says it is ensuring that energy efficiency is built into new facilities' design and educating staff to reduce their energy consumption. It also plans to boost its renewable energy use and wants aviation to be part of the EU emissions trading scheme. "The burning of fossil fuel in flight is the aviation industry's biggest impact on climate change. We know that unless a solution is found we will not be allowed to expand our airports in the way we'd like," BAA says.