There’s no doubt aviation is going to have a huge role to play in driving down global emissions and that Australia’s industry will be increasingly under pressure to do the same as travel approaches pre-Covid levels.
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that aviation produced 2.4 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2018.
If the aviation industry were a country, it would have been number-six in the world, nestled between Japan and Germany.
The use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is widely recognised as the greatest contributor to decarbonising aviation.
Tougher efficiency standards for new aircraft from 2028 will require, on average, a four percent reduction in cruise fuel consumption compared to the performance of new aircraft delivered in 2015.
New aircraft from Boeing and Airbus already meet the emission requirements and many now flying outperform the standard by about 10 percent.
What about the role of airports?
Upgrades to existing facilities, and the occasional greenfield developments that arise, are opportunities to embed smart digital technologies into airport operations to make them greener.
Airports Council International (ACI) runs a global accreditation program to help more than 200 airports to manage their emissions, with the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.
Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport is an enthusiastic participant and says it has already delivered a 25.6 percent reduction in carbon emissions per passenger since 2010.
The airport’s owner controls the joint fuel facilities at Mascot for the first time since privatisation in 2002. It plans to use this as an opportunity to drive the use of SAF as international flights start resuming.
Changi in Singapore has a reputation as one of the world’s most environmentally conscious airports and digital technology has been a major enabler. Energy-efficient motion sensors and lighting, water-efficient fittings, and roof-mounted solar panels are all part of the story.
More visibly, Changi’s newest terminal has a wall covered with 20,000 plant species to reduce the surrounding temperature and improve air quality.
Indira Gandhi Airport is India’s largest international entry and exit point and boasts the world’s eighth-largest terminal. Its Terminal 3 has 1,200 low-power LCD screens and 300 rainwater harvesting stations. Battery-powered vehicles ferry passengers between gates and baggage claims.
Zurich Airport in Switzerland is a green airport from top to bottom, with vast arrays of photovoltaic panels on its rooves and underground energy piles that heat and cool its buildings.
Zurich has reduced its emissions by 30 percent over the last three decades. De-iced water captured in winter is recycled and its toilets use natural organisms to break down waste.
Norway’s Oslo Airport was expanded using recycled and natural materials such as reused steel and environmentally friendly concrete mixed with volcanic ash. Snow cleared from runways during winter is stored underground to be used as a coolant in summer.
All of these airports rely to some extent on digital technology managing energy consumption to be more efficient.
Stockholm Arlanda Airport was the first European airport to achieve carbon neutrality in 2009. It’s lit by low-power LEDs and uses a biofuel system to heat its terminals, hangars and airfield buildings. Water for heating and cooling comes from wells tapping an underground aquifer.
Boston Logan International Airport ‘s Terminal A features heat reflective roofing and pavement surfaces and wind turbines on its administration building.
Denver International Airport has a solar power farm generating enough electricity to power 2,500 homes and gives aircraft the option of shutting down their auxiliary power and plugging into its local grid.
Sydney Airport is converting some of its plane layover bays to work the same way, reducing emissions and ground-based noise.
The Galápagos Islands are recognised as one of the world’s most iconic environmentally sensitive locations.
Galápagos Ecological Airport was built in 2012 and is almost totally powered by solar and wind power. Its water comes from a desalination plant. Some 80 percent of its infrastructure airport was built from recycled materials.
Rather than being cast as big polluters, airports are now positioning themselves as leaders using technology and innovative approaches to lowering their emissions.