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COP26: “A decarbonised future for aviation is now emerging” says airport industry

The airport industry took centre stage in COP26’s Climate Action Hub yesterday (Wednesday 10 November), reaffirming their global commitment to net zero and highlighting the evolving and renewed ambitions held by the industry despite the financial and operational challenges brought to bear by the global pandemic.

Speaking to the theme of “Delivering the Net Zero Airport of the Future”, ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec and Derek Provan, Chief Executive of AGS Airports Ltd, underlined the tangible climate actions of airports globally in addressing their own carbon emissions while also supporting broader decarbonisation of the air transport sector. To watch the interview click here. 

Transparent and measurable roadmaps to Net Zero carbon airports

The airport industry has long championed the sector’s need to chart a course to net zero, with a first ACI EUROPE carbon management Resolution in Europe in 2008 followed by the launch of the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme twelve years ago. Europe’s airports committed to a Net Zero CO2 airport emissions goal by 2050 at the latest back in 2019. This was followed earlier this year by a global Net Zero 2050 commitment, a long term carbon goal which will be accompanied by concrete guidance and transparent reporting on progress.

In Europe, these tangible, transparent actions come together in the recently announced Repository of Roadmaps and accompanying Guidance, and this will soon be followed by a worldwide Airport Action Plans Initiative. These individual plans and guidance have the clearly stated aim of aiding all airports to set out on the path to Net Zero, with an increasing body of evidence-based success to reference.  And the results to date speak for themselves, with 91 European airports set to achieve net zero carbon by 2030, including 10 airports that have already reached net zero today1.

Glasgow Airport announces solar farm plan

The airport net zero journey was brought to life much closer to the COP26 arena as CEO of AGS Airports2 Derek Provan used the platform to announce plans for a solar farm at Glasgow Airport. This initiative will give Glasgow Airport the capability to generate enough power for the entire airport campus and neighbouring businesses. This is equivalent to powering 20% of homes in the city of Glasgow – approximately 52 thousand households.

Hydrogen fuelled flights to become a reality in the Highlands

Discussing the importance of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) to the decarbonisation of aviation, Provan pointed to new aircraft energy systems and to the example of Scottish carrier Loganair, part of a consortium taking forward plans to trial a zero carbon, hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered flying demonstrator by September 2022. If trials are successful, this could see the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger flights take off in Orkney in late 2023. This, stressed Jankovec, highlights the importance of regional airports and short-haul flights as test-beds for radically new aircraft technologies. “It’s a policy we’ve long advocated for” said Jankovec, “which is already now becoming a reality”. It is also fully in line with the ambition set by the European aviation industry through Destination 2050, which sees all flights departing EU/UK/EFTA reach Net Zero CO2 by 2050.

A global showcase

Jankovec took a hybrid audience of online and Climate Action Hub participants on a virtual global tour of some of the most innovative and ecologically robust airport initiatives.

These included:

Vancouver International Airport: on track to reach net zero by 2030 and with aspirations to be the greenest airport in the world

Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport: The first to reach the new Airport Carbon Accreditation Level 4+ in Asia-Pacific, its planned taxiway will save 55,000 tonnes of CO2 annually

Aéroport de La Réunion: with groundbreaking architectural designs that override the need for air conditioning by harnessing wind power

Aeropuerto Ecológico de Galápagos: The world’s first ecological airport which draws 100% of its energy from renewable sources

Jankovec said: “COP26 represents a turning point, a now-or-never. Not for rhetoric and promises, but for actions. And these actions should be tangible, transparent, measurable and progressive. I am incredibly proud to stand here at COP and speak on behalf of an industry that faces some of the greatest challenges to decarbonise. Yet at the same time, it shows some of the greatest ambition. Because flying is not the enemy, carbon is. Air travel is part of our economic, cultural and human experience and it’s incumbent upon us all to ensure that is continued sustainably. The airport industry leads the way in transforming our sector into one which will be truly fit for purpose for future generations.”

Derek Provan said: “Aviation is a force for good and through our sustainability strategy we have set out how AGS will balance the undoubted economic and social benefits of aviation with our climate change responsibilities.

“As a group, we are committed to building on our carbon neutrality status by achieving net zero by the mid-2030s and like the wider industry, we have set out a clear plan on how will meet that goal. All of our electricity is already from 100% renewable sources, however, the creation of the solar farm at Glasgow Airport will allow us to become self-sustaining by generating enough power for both the airport and our neighbours.”

ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said: “These global examples are a testament to the innovation and determination of airports in meeting the greatest challenge of our time. And the momentum around the world is stronger than ever. ACI member airports, who committed in June 2021 to reaching net zero by 2050 for their own emissions, will be key players in facilitating this transition so aviation can continue to deliver social and economic benefits to the world. This global goal is important for a global industry, and ACI was the first international aviation organization to set a global net zero target for 2050. The entire aviation ecosystem needs to work together with the support of governments to make this goal a reality.”

Glasgow Airport