Menzies Aviation has made a commitment to greater sustainability in its operations, and not least in its ground handling. John Geddes, corporate affairs director & group company secretary, explains the ground services provider’s focus on a more environmentally friendly tomorrow
Can you tell us about the importance that Menzies places on sustainability in its handling operations, and how that is reflected in your various business plans and practices?
Sustainability is a high priority for us as we continue to grow our business and rebuild a better Menzies for the future. One of the main priorities of our Sustainability Programme is to identify and implement ways to operate more efficiently, a big part of which is achieving carbon neutrality by 2033, which coincides with the 200th anniversary of the business.
We are at the start of our journey and it will take time to achieve our ambitions, but we are committed to playing our part in addressing the climate emergency.
We have re-evaluated our initiatives and are reshaping our ground support fleet. We have devised three key approaches to reducing our environmental impact. These are: investing in equipment, energy efficient actions, and resetting our thinking. This has been seen globally where contract wins, such as with Qatar Airways at Gothenburg and Stockholm Airports in Sweden, have allowed us to invest in electric-powered equipment. Locally, we are supporting our teams to implement initiatives to lessen environmental impacts such as the installation of LED lighting, and using digital solutions to reduce our paper usage.
How have you gone about minimising your environmental footprint in regard to your ramp handling operations?
Investing in equipment is key to minimising the footprint of our ramp handling operations. Where opportunities arise, we will invest in electric equipment to replace diesel equipment. When this is not possible, we will choose the most efficient equipment available.
We have also implemented a telematics programme, which allows us to monitor the efficiency of our vehicles and take steps to reduce unnecessary engine idling.
Has this been a global strategy? It must be easier to execute in certain countries and at certain stations more than at others?
Our Sustainability Programme is being implemented globally; however, as mentioned above, we are also administering local initiatives. By way of example, our initiatives in Oslo are extremely relevant and are at the forefront of our strategy to reduce emissions.
Our Go Green project was established in Oslo in 2018 and has involved significant investment into electric ground support equipment to reduce our carbon footprint, whereby 90% of the ramp equipment has been replaced with modern, electric units.
More recently, a partnership with Vestergaard saw Menzies trial a new Elephant® e-BETA electrically operated de-icing unit at Menzies’ base at Oslo Airport, the first of its kind in Europe. Initial tests indicated that the use of the e-BETA would significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions, reducing them by 87% per truck per year.
In regard to GSE, you are clearly looking for more electric-powered equipment. How much electric-powered GSE do you operate today, and of what types?
We have been actively looking at our equipment to ensure it is more environmentally friendly. This has involved retiring older, higher emission equipment, and only retaining those that have lower emissions. And where possible, we are purchasing electric vehicles, which is usually a key part of our new contracts.
An example of this was our three-year contract with Mango Airlines, where we utilised electric equipment to ensure emissions were minimised. This involved the purchase of 15 new electric belt loaders and 12 new electric baggage tractors. We have also just received our new 7-tonne electric loader at Manchester Airport and a number of electric forklifts are in use within our cargo operation in Miami.
We have a large variety of electric GSE deployed throughout our network, including electric and solar-powered steps, electric baggage tractors, pushbacks, lower deck loaders, belt loaders, forklifts and more.
Within our global operations, we have the highest volumes of electric GSE in our European operations, with approximately a third of our fleet now being electric. We are developing our GSE strategy to plan how we can transform our fleet in our other geographies.
You mention pushbacks and de-icers; are battery-powered tugs and de-icing really an efficient option with today’s technology, do you think?
We have many electric pushbacks in use. However, there are limitations with some equipment models due to distances, weight and charging time periods.
As part of our continual pursuit of the newest technology available, we are currently trialling an electric 14-tonne maindeck loader from Chinese manufacturer Guangtai in our Hungary operations.
With regard to de-icers the results of the e-BETA trial have been positive and will impact all our acquisition choices, not just de-icing rigs. As battery technology improves and more types of equipment become available, we will endeavour to phase this new technology into our fleet. Hydrogen technology is also something we are keeping a close eye on.
How has the pandemic affected your environmental strategy? Has it put a brake on it, pushing other priorities to the forefront?
The pandemic only served to highlight more than ever the importance of sustainability and of being a responsible business, which is why we developed our sustainability strategy during 2020-21 and published our first set of targets, including our commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2033.
We remain focused on developing our goals and strategy in this area with many initiatives in progress. We have also committed to setting science-based emissions targets and we are participating in the UN’s Climate Ambition Accelerator programme.
As well as this, the pandemic forced us to take immediate actions to scale back our fleet size to match flight volumes. This gave us a chance to restructure our GSE and compelled us to find a way of working efficiently remotely.
Do you have any specific plans for the immediate or longer term future relating to your environmental strategy?
We do have a number of other environmental initiatives in the pipeline and under way, including our Go Paperless initiative, investing in carbon projects and developing our environmental standards and recognition awards.
We are collaborating and developing partnerships with key stakeholders to work on delivering environmental improvements together and look at how we can play our part in developing plans for supporting infrastructure capabilities to support our transition to ‘green’ GSE.
Reviewing our supply chain is another core part of our sustainability strategy, incorporating ESG due diligence and understanding the ambitions of our key suppliers that support us to ensure we share the same aims of being responsible corporate citizens.