Airports look to go green

posted on 21st June 2018

Airports and aviation hubs connect people, countries and continents, foster commercial and cultural exchange, and stimulate business, trade and employment at local, national and global level. Yet growing connectivity poses real or potential costs to the environment and to communities living in the shadow of aircraft. Airside International’s Bernadeta Tendyra examines ways in which airports in Europe, Asia and North America are pursuing growth while striving to protect Mother Earth.

Airlines and airports are commercial entities working for profit, yet sustainability features increasingly on their broader agenda. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, for example, is a hub of interlinked air, road, rail and digital connections, playing a major role in the Dutch economy and the wider region.

“We are Europe’s fourth-largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and third-largest in terms of cargo volumes,” says Jos Nijhuis, CEO of Schiphol Group. “We want to ensure that passengers, airlines and businesses regard Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as their preferred option, which requires effective co-operation both within our organisation and with our various external partners.”

Can airports combine a hard-nosed commercial ethic with a robustly ‘green’ agenda? The key may lie in Schiphol Group’s core values, which include reliability, efficiency, hospitality, inspiration and sustainability.

The last of these plays a central role in how the business is run. “We wish to create sustainable value for our stakeholders,” says Nijhuis, adding that the “interests of people, planet and profit are closely intertwined”. Schiphol’s integrated management aims to serve all three in a coherent manner. This means that green policies such as efficient exploitation of energy, responsible water useage, waste recycling and sustainable construction are embedded in Schiphol Group’s wider vision and business operations.

The airport’s action plan to achieve climate-neutral status by the end of 2012 and for generating 20 percent of its own energy by 2020 is a case in point. In March, a number of new technologies earned Schiphol coveted Carbon Accreditation Level 3, the highest but one under Airport Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation Benchmark Scheme.

A pilot project involving solar cells at ground level in its North-West area began in 2012; moreover, newly-installed solar panels on airport roofs will yield 440,000 kWh of green energy a year. ‘Smart switching’ systems using sensors operate lighting, ventilation, moving walkways and baggage conveyor belts. Meanwhile, Schiphol’s noise management scheme, based on statutory noise disturbance limits and on charge differentiation based on noise categories and night flying, recorded no breaches at any enforcement point in the 2011 operating year.

Significantly, a Local Community Contact Centre provides information and handles feedback concerning air traffic at and around Schiphol. Residents, local government and the TNO R&D Institute have assisted, inter alia, in developing a plan for broad contours in the landscape around the airport, to dissipate ground noise resulting from take-off and landing.

Changi’s contribution

Like its Dutch counterpart, Singapore’s Changi International airport is an important contributor to its local economy, employing around 30,000 people including those in the various airport agencies. “Our good connectivity to the rest of the world allows businesses located at Singapore to export goods quickly and safely, and also enables business travellers easy access to the rest of the world,” informs a Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesperson. In 2011, the airport handled 46.5 million passengers and 1.87 million tonnes of cargo.

How does a busy transport and cargo hub reconcile business expansion and buoyant passenger numbers with sound ecological practices? “Changi pursues environmental initiatives to ensure the sustainable growth of the airport and to fulfil a social responsibility to maintain the surroundings in which it is located,” says its spokesperson.

“When we construct a new terminal building, we ensure that it is designed and built as green as possible. Thus, we install energy-efficient and water-efficient systems, use high efficiency air-con chillers, design the building to allow as much natural lighting as possible, and so on. In 2010, we set a target to reduce our energy consumption by 3 percent by 2013, and we are on track to meet the target.”

Significantly, these and other green measures are not just good for the environment but often pay for themselves. Nationally recycled water (NeWater), which is cheaper than domestic water, is used extensively in Changi’s terminals for most non-consumption purposes. Other schemes such as LED lighting and solar panels return the initial investment over the years through the energy savings they make.

In air quality terms, CAG controls the number of vehicles airside through Airfield Vehicle Permits (AVP), bans vehicles over 10 years of age unless they pass inspection and encourages the use of hybrid vehicles if cost-effective. Changi also hosts one of several remote air monitoring stations in Singapore.

Environmentally-conscious MIA

In the USA, Miami International airport’s (MIA) Environmental Management System and ISO 14001 Certification are the driving forces behind its green efforts. In the mid-1990s, MIA embarked on a massive expansion to meet future passenger numbers and cargo volume projections, under the watchful eye of local, state and federal environmental regulatory agencies. The airport, which services 140 cities worldwide, serves 38 million passengers annually and is one of the busiest passenger and freight airports in the USA, is thus ready to meet demand for many years to come.

How have locals received this development? “As far as the community is concerned, they are well aware that the airport is one of the main economic engines”, says Pedro Hernandez, Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) facilities development management director.

Moreover, “Our Communications Division keeps the community informed about our green efforts during construction activities as well as during our regular operations.”

Hernandez highlights internal and external communication with airport workers, tenants, contractors and the community at large as one of the main components of MIA’s green policies. MDAD’s comprehensive noise-reduction programmes – including Noise Abatement, Commuter Departure and Chartered Visual Approach Procedures, Runway Use Programmes, Common Awareness and Partner Programmes, restrictions on engine maintenance run-up and other measures – stem from community involvement.

In addition, “Our most effective tool to reduce our environmental footprint and improve the environment is the continuous training of our employees,” he notes.

Hernandez refers to the “beauty” of the ISO 14001 requirement of continual improvement, as this “keeps us on our green toes in our operations and activities”.

Under its Alternative Fuels Master Plan, MIA managed to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 15.1 percent in 2005, exceeding the 10 percent target and doing so five years ahead of schedule.

MIA’s current thrust is to expand its recycling efforts to all passengers in the terminal area and to continue retrofitting its loading bridges with ground power units (GPUs) to eliminate the use of energy-intensive auxiliary power units (APUs). MIA thus extols the virtues of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ and ‘Buying Green’ strategies to its employees. “Nowadays all our stakeholders (customers, tenants, investors, regulators, etc) expect us to be environmentally responsible because the economic welfare, as well as their health and safety and that of our community, depend on such behaviour,” Hernandez explains.

In the Far East, the vagaries of the weather have meanwhile highlighted – in cataclysmic fashion – the need to conserve energy. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, followed by the accident at Fukushima nuclear plant, caused many thousands of deaths, the plant’s shutdown and significant power supply shortages.

The same year, the Japanese government mandated power conservation of at least 15 percent over 2010 and set about reducing consumption at Tokyo’s Narita International airport. The 2011-2015 Eco-Airport Master Plans had already stated its intention to reduce its environmental impact, while moving towards new routes, capacity of 300,000 flights per annum and transition to a multi-function hub meeting a varied range of aviation needs. Could such objectives be reconciled?

“We were able to achieve a reduction (in power consumption) of 20 percent or so,” informs Seiich Ohtake, vice-president, Eco-Airport Development and Planning Office, “and we have detailed a consumption plan for this fiscal year by looking closely at sectors where we can continue to conserve power and those where our efforts were excessive.

“Conserving electricity presented a good opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the value of our energy resources. The master plan was approved before the accident, with presumed impacts on reduction targets for CO2 emissions and energy consumption. Once the confirmed figures for fiscal 2011 are produced, we will revise the plan where necessary. We have not deviated from our objective to become the world’s leading eco-airport.”

Like other aviation officials around the globe, he highlights the imperative of getting the population on board. “The community appreciation of our initiatives was a key factor in gaining their consensus for the increase in airport capacity to 300,000 slots a year.”

Both macro and micro approaches are important. Narita airport seeks to address environmental policies from a global perspective, which means looking at issues such as global warming, energy conservation and recycling of resources as ones affecting the world at large, and tackling them in kind.

At the micro-level, Ohtake advocates “enlightening events such as our Eco-Festa… so that individual staff can understand the importance of conserving the environment, accept the airport’s goals and become actively involved. This is the way to become an environment-friendly airport.”

Narita may face stiff competition from Asian rival Hong Kong International airport (HKIA), which in May 2012 pledged with 40 businesses partners to become the world’s greenest airport. The previous year, HKIA and its partners had achieved a 10 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2008 baseline emission levels.

“With the many initiatives we have in place”, remarks C K Ng, executive director, airport operations, Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), “we are confident that we are on track with our pledge to reach a 25 percent reduction in carbon intensity by 2015.”

HKIA has consolidated its green programmes into a three-year, rolling environmental plan of key goals and initiatives for the 2012-14 period. These include installing 100,000 LEDs by 2014, banning the use of APUs by parked aircraft by 2014, and electrifying all new saloon cars in the Airport Restricted Area (ARA) by mid-2013 (and the entire ARA saloon fleet by 2017).

Its future Midfield Concourse will feature over 1,200 square metres of rooftop solar panels, over 80 percent LED lighting and high-performance glazing panels, solar shading and north-facing skylights to maximise natural light and reduce solar heat gain.

The airport aims to raise its grey water treatment capacity to 6,000 cubic metres per day, and to increase both waste separation at source and re-use/recycling, with a target of separating and processing all recyclables within 10 years. By end-2010, HKAA had pledged to achieve a 25 percent reduction in emissions per workload by 2015 over 2008 levels. More than 300 carbon reduction initiatives aim to meet this challenge.

At the same time, HKIA is a multi-modal transport centre, offering extensive land, sea and air connections to major cities in the Pearl River Delta region. Its Midfield development and West Apron project that involves 36 extra parking stands, will be completed by the end of 2015 with the aim of meeting medium-term passenger and air traffic movement demand.

For the long term, in March 2012 HKIA gained ‘in-principle’ government approval for a three-runway system, which will now undergo the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. “We will conduct the EIA study in a highly-engaging, transparent and professional manner, and will launch a series of stakeholder engagement activities to solicit public views,” Ng confirms.

HKIA is yet another busy international airport seeking to reconcile rising air transport demand and business profitability with sound environmental practice. How do dynamic transport hubs square this eco-circle? Schiphol Group’s Jos Nijhuis perhaps voices the views of many: “We are committed to maximising the sustainability of our business operations… Hence, Corporate Responsibility is essential to our business… Both our complex environment (which involves a wide range of diverging interests) and the myriad of laws and regulations governing our operations determine the limits within which our airport can operate.

“We believe that collaboration, innovation and sharing views with the sector, the government and the local community are the best ways to seek solutions for these complex issues.”