Airport design and construction should be a driver towards net zero

Wholesale aviation decarbonization relies on new technologies within years of full-scale implementation, so the built environment sector must do what it can to accelerate airport decarbonization as soon as possible. now.

Crawford Burden is Managing Director of Global Aviation for EMEA at Aecom

As an industry committed to reducing carbon emissions and limiting the impact of climate change, our longstanding practices are increasingly forcing us to rethink and reassess design. From the amount of concrete to the use of wood, many old assumptions about the built environment need to be reconsidered when sustainability is placed at the heart of design.

The aviation sector is at the forefront of this challenge. The number of passengers, despite the pandemic, is expected to increase, surpassing pre-pandemic levels at 4 billion per year by 2024 and up to 10 billion people are expected to fly in 2050, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA ). Meeting this demand will require an increase in capacity and major airport expansion projects are planned or underway around the world.

But this growth puts the airline industry in a difficult position. Last June, the Airports Council International Europe, which represents more than 500 airports across Europe, committed to net zero carbon emissions from airport operations by 2050 at the latest. Additionally, in October, IATA members – which represent 83% of global air traffic – committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This means that a cumulative total of 21.2 gigatonnes of carbon must be reduced by 2050, according to IATA. . To say that the decarbonization challenge facing the aviation sector is enormous is an understatement. Added to this is the high profile and emotive nature of air travel as a major contributor to CO2 emissions and climate change, which in itself could lead to a reduction in the projected growth in global traffic. The need for change is therefore important and urgent.

The aviation industry expects most carbon savings to come from airline fuel, with new sources such as SAF and hydrogen, although the impact may be a few days away. years. But while accelerating new aeronautical technologies is clearly the priority, there are other ways for the aviation sector to have a short-term impact and the design, construction and operation of airports must be the vanguard of this change. Work to decarbonize the design and operation of new and existing airports must be accelerated.

The aviation industry is increasingly embracing sustainability and resilience planning as an operational imperative. With increasing public pressure to act on climate change, airports find themselves at the crossroads of many challenging aspects of sustainability. This includes adapting critical infrastructure to energy, water and climate change constraints, implementing comprehensive resource efficiency programs, aligning capital programs with best practices sustainable design and construction, and working with airlines to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases. At the same time, airports must meet the needs of the communities in which they operate and create a diverse and skilled workforce that can manage the transition to a more sustainable operating model, which strives to become net zero. .

Successful decarbonization programs must be tailored to the needs and business objectives of each airport, and in addition to being environmentally sustainable, they must also be financially viable. Although the industry has provided many guidelines and best practices, by its very nature, each airport should develop an approach and program that aligns with overall development and operating plans. Developing an effective and comprehensive net zero strategy requires balancing the long and short term and prioritizing initiatives that best align with the airport’s business and shareholder goals. This can be achieved through the creation of a strong Energy Master Plan (EMP) that aligns with its environmental goals and also enhances the broader strategic vision of the organization. This requires a seasoned and progressive methodology, backed by analytical rigor, but must also be flexible enough to adjust priorities and seize unique opportunities as they emerge.

One example is San Diego International Airport, the second airport in North America to achieve “neutral” airport carbon accreditation. The airport has developed a Strategic Energy Plan (STEP) and a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP), which together provide a portfolio of action plans to address key areas of airport sustainability, including carbon neutrality , sustainable energy, clean transport, climate resilience, zero waste and biodiversity. The STEP contains an action-oriented roadmap leading to a 30% reduction in energy costs, a 66% reduction in on-site greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to reduce dependence by 70% to grid energy.

From a design perspective, an important starting point is ensuring that new installations and upgrades have a future-proof design. Designers must be adept at planning developments that will change the way we use airports in the future. For example, today, traveling to and from airports by car accounts for a significant portion of an airport’s total carbon footprint, demonstrating the importance that public and sustainable transport should have in the design and operations (and the important role of eVTOL as a near-term mechanism for aviation decarbonization). Since these car journeys are reduced, it is possible that the volume of parking facilities required currently may be reduced in the future. Designing these types of buildings to be adaptive, demountable or relocatable based on changing user needs will bring greater carbon efficiency and environmental benefits.

The ability to reuse materials and a circular economy approach is a principle we expect to see embedded in any new airport design, along with other industry best practices such as sustainably sourced materials. , water use, waste reduction and designs that limit the use of carbon-intensive materials.

Aviation is a complex industry – it offers opportunity, connectivity and growth; however, as a major carbon generator, it must undergo significant changes as it decarbonizes. By working together to reduce carbon emissions associated with airport operations and construction, and by adopting new processes, techniques and technologies, we can make real progress in the sector’s journey towards sustainable decarbonization and environmental and social governance. solid.

*Crawford Burden is Managing Director of Global Aviation for EMEA at Aecom

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