Airports: Preparing to land at a Net Zero future

Thinking

Decarbonising airports: Taking off to a net zero future

Airports have been on a trajectory in recent years to tailor their passenger offerings and to find a balance between being a place of transit but also a destination – developing into miniature precincts.

While airports, airlines and their partners in the global aviation ecosystem have been justifiably focused on survival through the industry upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, an airport’s contribution to climate change remains a long-term risk that needs to be on the radar of owners and operators.

Reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions can be addressed hand in hand with the industry’s post-pandemic transformation and help airport owners to respond to changing social values and stakeholder expectations.

Now is the time for airport owners to formulate a decarbonisation roadmap towards Net Zero, to pivot towards operations and physical infrastructure that make a positive environmental and social impact.

In this thinking paper, we explore the short-, medium- and long-term opportunities for airports on a pathway to decarbonisation.

Airports as power generators

Airports could be our future energy ecosystems. Now, more than ever, airports can make a meaningful difference towards net zero emissions, and find new efficiencies and income streams to improve their environmental efforts.

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, airports experienced free-fall declines in customer numbers almost overnight. Consequently, revenue generators, all the way from aircraft landing fees to the retail shops, fell dramatically. Additionally, the commercial opportunities associated with non-aeronautical revenue became strained due to economic uncertainty.

To maintain lower operational expenditure and improve revenue generation, airport owners and operators must think beyond traditional infrastructure development and income streams.

Traditionally, airports played a passive or reactive role in energy generation and reticulation. What if they were energy agents, participating in energy markets and contracts in their own right? As part of a decarbonisation roadmap, airport owners could consider entering the energy provider arena by generating power on-site and exploring tangible solutions and commitments to becoming carbon neutral.

As most airports are significant land holders, they could take advantage of the opportunity to develop real estate and become superheroes of change by:

Controlling the usage and site wide impacts of their land holdings for positive environmental, social and economic outcomes

Controlling the usage and site wide impacts of their land holdings for positive environmental, social and economic outcomes

Providing the footprint for alternative energy generation or renewable energy harvesting (such as solar generation or hydrogen production)

Providing the footprint for alternative energy generation or renewable energy harvesting (such as solar generation or hydrogen production)

An airport as an energy agent would behave much more flexibly in terms of energy consumption and use, as energy markets become more sophisticated. Energy agents use their own information and resources to create value.

For an airport, this may be through its own generation, and managing its own demand and energy storage, while employing a sophisticated energy trading strategy to anticipate future generation, demand and market price, and buy off the grid at the cheapest time. This may assist airports to continue to thrive in the face of major disruptions in the future, maybe not another COVID-19, but certainly environmental or technological disruptions.

Responding to climate change

Environmental factors will feature even more heavily on an airport’s ecosystem, such as comprehensive climate change resilience and adaptation risk management to ensure the continuity of operations and investments. Environmental commitment to surrounding communities could come in the form of noise dampening infrastructure or taxing operators with older engine technologies.

While the airport terminal and infrastructure contribute only a fraction of the total level of global aviation emissions, the spotlight is still on decarbonisation.

  • If no energy alternatives were considered, what effect would more volatile or rising electricity costs have in the future?
  • How onerous will future environmental regulations and decarbonisation pressures become?
  • What strategies are in place to drive a coordinated reduction of the total environmental footprint across the global aviation ecosystem?
  • Where can efficiencies be found?
  • How practical, or mature, are new forms of technology for on-site energy generation?
  • Where in time should initiatives be programmed to balance cost and environmental gain?
  • Can efficiencies be effectively shared across the multitude of airport stakeholder and user sets?
  • How can you strengthen the public´s environmental awareness to support changes at the airport?
  • What data do you need to be able to show the efficiency commercial return on ‘green’ investments’?
  • How will energy related modernisation affect airport funding costs – are there long-term pricing benefits?

Key questions for airports to consider when formulating a decarbonisation pathway

Expanding non-aeronautical income

The growing expectation of airport owners is to find ways to expand non-aeronautical income to supplement aircraft landing fees and passenger charges. Traditionally this has been through airport-based experiences such as retail, dining, leisure and entertainment. In the future, this could be quite different.

For instance, what if airports could be the energy agent not just for themselves, but also for the precincts around them? They could be ‘hardened energy nodes’ – microgrids with better-than-average resilience to grid disturbances – able to restore power to the grid network to recover from a total or partial shutdown.

Reimagining an airport, not as a standalone business, but as a highly interconnected, living and adaptive environment reflects a broader trend towards ecosystem thinking. It aligns with the notion that airports are significant socio-economic drawcards to their surrounding areas. They provide direct and indirect employment, as well as social (and economic) benefits to people who fly.

These benefits result from two main areas: 1) construction on site, and daily operation of the airport terminals and ground operations; and 2) flights, access to the airport (cars, buses, trains, parking etc.) and associated projects such as hotels and airport-related precinct developments.

Roadmap ideas

A factor in the successful transformation of airports beyond COVID-19 is the opportunity to decarbonise infrastructure, operations and systems. A decarbonised recovery would ensure that aviation continues to provide economic and social benefits to local, regional and national communities.

It is important to be pragmatic about the short-, medium- and long-term opportunities to decarbonise airports.

Purchasing carbon offsets, for example, is a less preferred approach than direct emissions reduction in reaching long-term goals. Some technology is not yet mature enough to implement across every airport estate successfully and cost-effectively, however with future improvements, implementation may become more viable. Successful initiatives, even small in terms of initial investment and return, can contribute to an altered decarbonisation mindset, inspiring an airport to focus on and monitor, emerging technologies.

The pathway to decarbonisation may not be the same for every region, in particular major city and regional, but that is expected, with some regions achieving their milestones earlier than others.

Short-term opportunities

Measures in the short-term (ie those that can be implemented immediately), which may assist airport owners to decarbonise their operations and reduce climate impacts. Short-term measures applied as a long-term strategy to decarbonisation could be the most productive at laying the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable industry.

Short-term measures applied as a long-term strategy to decarbonisation could be the most productive at laying the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable industry.

3

Inverse runway line marking to reduce the heat island effect from vast expanses of pavement.

2

Electrical fixed ground power and pre-conditioned air provisions to reduce airport auxiliary power unit inefficiencies.

8

Roof water collection in rainwater tanks reduces mains potable water use.

4

Ceramic window films that reflect heat to reduce the greenhouse effects of large, glazed terminal buildings.

9

Deploy passive daylighting systems, using less energy to keep buildings lit.

6

Predictive modelling of heating, ventilation and cooling to vary ambient temperatures and reduce the cooling/heating efforts of these systems, optimising performance and economics.

10

Tactical ground support equipment storage and scheduling to reduce distance driven.

11

Operational planning to reduce aircraft delays.

13

Turn the airport facilities into a smart building with low emissions.

5

Solar canopies on ground-level carparks to offset electricity purchase and power electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

7

Deploy hybrid / low emissions landside transport and ground support equipment.

12

Planning and design of airside to reduce aircraft taxiing distances and congestion.

1

Ambient temperature reductions at the airport through use of recycled water, pavement sprinklers and introduction of cooling grass crops.

Ambient temperature reductions at the airport through use of recycled water, pavement sprinklers and introduction of cooling grass crops Electrical fixed ground power and pre-conditioned air provisions to reduce airport auxiliary power unit inefficiencies Inverse runway line marking to reduce the heat island effect from vast expanses of pavement Ceramic window films that reflect heat to reduce the greenhouse effects of large, glazed terminal buildings Solar canopies on ground-level carparks to offset electricity purchase and power electric vehicle (EV) charging stations Predictive modelling of heating, ventilation and cooling to vary ambient temperatures and reduce the cooling/heating efforts of these systems, optimising performance and economics Purchase alternative/hybrid fuel technology landside transport and ground support equipment Roof water collection in rainwater tanks reduces mains potable water use Deploy passive daylighting systems, using less energy to keep buildings lit Tactical ground support equipment storage and scheduling to reduce distance driven Operational planning to reduce aircraft delays Planning and design of airside to reduce aircraft taxiing distances and congestion Turn the airport facilities into a smart building with low emissions

Tap or hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the short-term.

Ambient temperature reductions at the airport through use of recycled water, pavement sprinklers and introduction of cooling grass crops.

Electrical fixed ground power and pre-conditioned air provisions to reduce airport auxiliary power unit inefficiencies.

Inverse runway line marking to reduce the heat island effect from vast expanses of pavement.

Ceramic window films that reflect heat to reduce the greenhouse effects of large, glazed terminal buildings.

Solar canopies on ground-level carparks to offset electricity purchase and power electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

Predictive modelling of heating, ventilation and cooling to vary ambient temperatures and reduce the cooling/heating efforts of these systems, optimising performance and economics.

Deploy hybrid / low emissions landside transport and ground support equipment.

Roof water collection in rainwater tanks reduces mains potable water use.

Deploy passive daylighting systems, using less energy to keep buildings lit.

Tactical ground support equipment storage and scheduling to reduce distance driven.

Operational planning to reduce aircraft delays.

Planning and design of airside to reduce aircraft taxiing distances and congestion.

Turn the airport facilities into a smart building with low emissions.

Hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the short-term.

Medium-term opportunities

Measures in the medium-term (ie those that are feasible with new assets or modifications to traditional assets), which may assist airports to decarbonise their operations and reduce climate impacts. To succeed in putting the aviation industry on a pathway to decarbonisation, new types of alternative fuels need to be introduced in the medium-term, alongside consideration of heat recovery systems.

To succeed in putting the aviation industry on a pathway to decarbonisation, new types of alternative fuels need to be introduced in the medium-term, alongside consideration of heat recovery symtems.

4

Natural ventilation system that drives fresh air into the building, while the warm, stuffy air inside rises and is expelled.

5

Passive heating and cooling systems reduce total annual energy consumption.

2

Vehicle to grid, allowing electric vehicles with known multi-day idle times (based on passenger itinerary) to be part of the on-site electricity storage system.

7

Improved public transport infrastructure to and from the airport.

6

Supply of sustainable aviation fuel, such as biofuel.

8

Heat recovery from chiller plants to generate hot water for buildings.

1

Biofuel (biomass) energy supplementation/generation, instead of diesel, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and provide additional revenue and cost savings by participating in grid services markets.

3

Increased electrification of ground transport using mix of battery-electric and hydrogen.

9

Farms and agricultural production in surrounding areas to reduce food transport distance for distribution by air.

10

Alternative airfield construction methods to lower material use, transport and waste along the supply chain supporting the airport.

11

Centralised waste and recycling facility – capture waste for energy, and recycle energy.

12

Recycled stormwater to irrigate vegetative cover to lower air temperature on hot days.

Biofuel (biomass) energy supplementation/generation, instead of diesel, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and provide additional revenue and cost savings by participating in grid services markets Vehicle to grid, allowing electric vehicles with known multi-day idle times (based on passenger itinerary) to be part of the on-site electricity storage system Ground transport electrification using hydrogen Natural ventilation system that drives fresh air into the building, while the warm, mtuffy air inside rises and is expelled Passive heating and cooling systems reduce total annual energy consumption Supply of sustainable aviation fuel, such as biofuel Improved public transport inframtructure to and from the airport Heat recovery from chiller plants to generate hot water for buildings Farms and agricultural production in surrounding areas to reduce food transport distance for distribution by air Alternative airfield construction methods to lower material use, transport and waste along the supply chain supporting the airport Centralised waste and recycling facility – capture wamte for energy, and recycle energy Recycled stormwater to irrigate vegetative cover to lower air temperature on hot days

Tap or hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the mid-term.

Biofuel (biomass) energy supplementation/generation, instead of diesel, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and provide additional revenue and cost savings by participating in grid services markets.

Vehicle to grid, allowing electric vehicles with known multi-day idle times (based on passenger itinerary) to be part of the on-site electricity storage system.

Increased electrification of ground transport using mix of battery-electric and hydrogen.

Natural ventilation system that drives fresh air into the building, while the warm, stuffy air inside rises and is expelled.

Passive heating and cooling systems reduce total annual energy consumption.

Supply of sustainable aviation fuel, such as biofuel.

Improved public transport infrastructure to and from the airport.

Heat recovery from chiller plants to generate hot water for buildings.

Farms and agricultural production in surrounding areas to reduce food transport distance for distribution by air.

Alternative airfield construction methods to lower material use, transport and waste along the supply chain supporting the airport.

Centralised waste and recycling facility – capture waste for energy, and recycle energy.

Recycled stormwater to irrigate vegetative cover to lower air temperature on hot days.

Hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the medium-term.

Long-term opportunities

Measures in the long-term (ie those that are reliant on emerging technologies still to mature), which may assist airports to decarbonise their operations and reduce climate impacts.

A collaborative approach is essential to achieving the opportunities to decarbonise, and to deliver a framework that benefits economies and societies. Net zero carbon emissions at airports is achievable, but it will take hard work.

A collaborative approach is essential to achieving the opportunities to decarbonise, and to deliver a framework that benefits economies and societies.

1

Use onsite power generation as an alternative source of income.

3

SkyCity developments close to airports to increase public transport use and accommodate population growth.

2

Green hydrogen production from onsite renewables, for use in e.g. ground support vehicles.

6

Green finance loans to develop and deliver non-aviation income projects. Interest calculated from annual assessment of the airport’s overall environmental, social and governance risk and performance.

5

Fully electrified ground transport, and serving as zero-emissions charging/fuelling hub for precinct transport networks.

4

‘Meet and Greet’ scheme. Aircraft main engine shut down after arrival with electric or hydrogen-powered tug tow to gate.

7

Develop airside movement infrastructure that reduces taxiing times and minimises the length of time that aircraft spend circling the airport while waiting to land.

8

Re-purpose traditional aviation assets as some people choose not to fly, instead, accepting virtual reality and augmented reality experiences.

Use onsite power generation as an alternative source of income Green hydrogen production from onsite renewables, for use in e.g. ground support vehicles SkyCity developments close to airports to increase public transport use and accommodate population growth ‘Meet and Greet’ scheme. Aircraft main engine shut down after arrival with electric or hydrogen-powered tug tow to gate Zero emission ground service equipment and ground transport Green finance loans to develop and deliver non-aviation income projects. Interest calculated from annual assessment of the airport’s overall environmental, social and governance risk and performance Develop airside movement infrastructure that reduces taxiing times and minimises the length of time that aircraft spend circling the airport while waiting to land Re-purpose traditional aviation assets as some people choose not to fly, instead, accepting virtual reality and augmented reality experiences

Tap or hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the long-term.

Use onsite power generation as an alternative source of income.

Green hydrogen production from onsite renewables, for use in e.g. ground support vehicles.

SkyCity developments close to airports to increase public transport use and accommodate population growth.

‘Meet and Greet’ scheme. Aircraft main engine shut down after arrival with electric or hydrogen-powered tug tow to gate.

Fully electrified ground transport, and serving as zero-emissions charging/fuelling hub for precinct transport networks.

Green finance loans to develop and deliver non-aviation income projects. Interest calculated from annual assessment of the airport’s overall environmental, social and governance risk and performance.

Develop airside movement infrastructure that reduces taxiing times and minimises the length of time that aircraft spend circling the airport while waiting to land.

Re-purpose traditional aviation assets as some people choose not to fly, instead, accepting virtual reality and augmented reality experiences.

Hover over the numbers to reveal the opportunities to decarbonise in the long-term.

Airports as influencers of decarbonisation

Addressing the challenge of climate change will require investments in energy-efficient terminals, runways, land development and building systems. It is essential that we explain how changes to airports ‒ just like more efficient aircraft ‒ will actually advance the case of decarbonisation.

If investments are focused on future-proofing an airport, from an environmental, economic and social perspective, they will make use of a range of technologies, some of which may not be fully matured.

To decarbonise, airports and their partners in the aviation industry need the support of appropriate regulation and government policies to facilitate real change.

Appropriate government support and facilitation will help the aviation industry to transition energy sources from fossil fuel to sustainable aviation fuel, as well as accelerate research and development of electric, hybrid and hydrogen aircraft, and vehicles. We are seeing partnerships evolving on a range of green energy projects for the aviation sector, including the development of sustainable fuels for the industry that target net-zero emissions.

In the short-, medium- and long-term, airports have opportunities to demonstrate their ability to combine innovation and technology, to mitigate against and to reduce the effects of climate change, and to create modern state-of-the-art destinations that people will celebrate as they power a region’s growth and resilience into the future.


About the Authors

Erik Kriel, Aviation Capability Leader at Aurecon, has more than two decades of experience as an airport development planner and strategist, including terminal design, airport master planning, concept designs, capital expenditure planning and airline consultation. He has led consultancy teams in Australia, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Previously, Erik headed Airport Planning for the Airports Company South Africa. He has worked at some of the largest hub airports in the world, including Dubai and Hong Kong as well as some of the most economically sensitive such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Prior to his current role at Aurecon where he manages the company’s technical aviation capability across Australia & New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East, he was Aviation Lead Consultant on several Australian airport planning projects.

Ben McGarry has been recognised as one of Engineers Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers in the Australian energy market, having worked in energy strategy, infrastructure advisory, project development, project engineering and technology R&D roles in Australia and the US.

As Aurecon’s Future Energy Capability Leader, he leads a group of future-focused experts that develop strategies, policies and projects to embrace the opportunity and navigate the risks of the global energy transition. He is passionate about bringing diverse thinking and harnessing new technologies to solve challenging problems, particularly in our complex, rapidly-transforming electricity systems.

Brett Reiss formerly led Aurecon’s Australia & New Zealand aviation team where he specialised in the management and development of privatised airports. Brett has led the master planning of numerous Australia airports, and has undertaken extensive land use, airfield and terminal planning exercises for airports in Australia and New Zealand. Brett was previously General Manager Commercial Services for Northern Territory Airports.

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