Pollution from airports and aircraft is a significant contributor to climate change. According to the Air Transport Action Group, the aviation sector accounted for approximately 2% of the total human-induced carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite a worldwide effort at government level to reduce CO2 emissions by 2050 – as highlighted in the Paris Agreement – there is a long journey ahead to net zero.

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According to GlobalData’s climate change thematic research, only 36 out of the 197 countries that endorsed the Paris Agreement have submitted their 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions, which are countries’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

To curb the environmental impact caused by aviation, multinational information and technology company SITA has recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with AI company Envision Digital. The agreement will see the companies working together to create solutions that build towards a carbon-neutral, net-zero future for airports.

We speak to SITA president Europe Sergio Colella to find out more about the MOU and the solutions SITA will be working on to help the aviation industry achieve a carbon-neutral future.

Credit: SITA.


Frankie Youd (FY): SITA has recently announced an MOU with Envision Digital. What does this mean for the company?

Sergio Colella (SC): Our industry is increasingly under pressure to reduce its impact on the environment. At SITA we take this extremely seriously and are committed to helping our customers achieve their carbon-zero ambitions. One area where we can add the most value is by focusing on streamlining airline and airport operations to be more sustainable, underpinned by technology and data analytics.

It was with this in mind that SITA has signed a bilateral agreement with Envision Digital, an artificial intelligence of things (AIoT) technology leader and global net-zero partner, to jointly build end-to-end net-zero carbon solutions for airports worldwide.

Through this collaboration, we will harness Envision Digital’s strengths in digitalisation, data management and artificial intelligence applied to energy and smart building solutions together with SITA’s strengths in air transport technology and operations to support airports in their journey towards net-zero carbon emissions.

With Envision Digital and SITA working together, the airports can accelerate this journey, integrating solutions that optimise airport operations to reduce local emissions – like the ones related to take-off and landing, taxi time and stand allocation – with solutions that optimise infrastructure-related energy consumption, powerfully combining operational data with energy data for further efficiencies.

This agreement is part of a wider focus to develop new solutions within SITA while seeking new partners that bring additional value to our sustainability portfolio.


What solutions will the company be working on with Envision Digital to build a net-zero carbon future?

With our best-in-class technologies, we are creating fully integrated net zero-carbon solutions to help the industry gain actionable insights and achieve its sustainability targets.

Pragmatically, this means we will work together to build a carbon reduction solution that connects and facilitates real-time data flows in an airport to monitor its real-time carbon footprint, gain data-driven insights and manage emissions.

Based on these insights, airports will be able to harmonise energy silos, drive efficiencies, and reduce energy consumption while maintaining high traveller comfort levels and enabling more efficient operations as the aviation industry rebounds.


What key steps has SITA taken this year to assist airports on their decarbonisation journeys?

First, it is worth noting that we want to lead by example. It is with this in mind that SITA has a focused programme called Planet+ to reduce our own carbon footprint. As a result of this programme, SITA earlier this year became a certified CarbonNeutral [adhering to CarbonNeutral Protocol business guidelines] company and remains focused on further decreasing emissions to maintain its annual certification renewal.

We also want to help our customers with their sustainability journey. We are experiencing a growing demand for digital solutions that take into account environmental issues. Therefore, we have adapted our portfolio and introduced new or supplemented solutions that help our customers reduce their carbon footprint.

“For airports, flights tend to be the biggest source of an airport’s emissions.”

For airports, flights tend to be the biggest source of an airport’s emissions. One study highlighted that more than 97% of an airport’s annual emissions relate to flight arrivals and departures. As such, operational efficiencies such as aircraft turnaround, and landing and departure cycles remain crucial.

With this in mind, SITA is currently trialling a new emissions management capability at Palermo Airport. SITA Emissions Manager leverages the SITA Airport Management solution to enable Palermo Airport to monitor and optimise selected Scope 3 emissions, including during landing and take-off cycles.

The initiative will integrate various emission datasets to help the airport make informed decisions to drive greater efficiency in apron operations and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The trial will also assess the benefits of using SITA Emissions Manager to optimise other Scope 3 emission sources at the airport, such as aircraft turnaround and ground vehicles.

On the aircraft side of the business, we recently purchased Safety Line. After an existing successful partnership between SITA and Safety Line to make flights more sustainable by integrating Safety Line’s OptiFlight product with our eWAS Pilot application, the acquisition was a logical next step. There was a natural synergy as the primary focus for Safety Line and SITA’s aircraft business is aircraft safety and efficiency.

OptiFlight is the only predictive in-flight fuel efficiency solution leveraging machine learning performance models enabling an aircraft to optimise all flight phases, including climb-out, cruise, and descent. The benefits are significant. For example, Transavia, using modules of OptiFlight, has seen estimated savings on fuel of 82kg per climb, with 223 CO2 tons reduction a year per aircraft tail.

Looking to 2022, we will continue to expand our portfolio in this area, building on the success in 2021.


What would you like 2022 to hold for the aviation industry and its path to further decarbonisation?

As the recovery in air transport takes root in 2022, emissions will likely continue to grow as passenger volumes increase. According to the Airports Council International, aviation activities contribute 2% to 3% of global human-induced carbon emissions, with airports accounting for approximately 2% of the aviation contribution globally. These emissions are forecasted to grow by 3% to 4% per year, tripling by 2050. IATA estimates that by 2050, the CO2 emissions should reach 21.2 gigatons.

At the same time, both airlines through IATA and airports through ACI has committed to achieving zero carbon status by 2050. Given the growth in emissions, this is a bold and challenging target.

“To tackle the industry’s environmental sustainability challenge, we need to start now.”

To tackle the industry’s environmental sustainability challenge, we need to start now. This requires a coordinated effort from all stakeholders including airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, manufacturers, and government. With commitments in place, the real work begins.

Underpinning all these initiatives is technology and data analytics. Many of these solutions are available today and are focused on addressing smart airport and airline operations. We don’t need to wait for some of the more ground-breaking technologies – new-generation aircraft or sustainable fuels – to get a head start on reducing our emissions. The technology we have today can deliver an immediate impact.

Given the immense challenge facing the industry, we need to work together as an industry and starting today. If we do that, we put ourselves on track to prove that we, as an industry, are good to our word in meeting our commitment to being a carbon zero industry by 2050.