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Environment - One voice

Industry stakeholders are backing airline work in environmental mitigation, allowing aviation to present a united front at the forthcoming COP15 meeting in Copenhagen

Following an ICAO High Level Meeting, the aviation industry will take a clear and unified position to the United Nations climate change meeting—the Conference of the Parties (COP15)—in Copenhagen in mid-December. But it is not just airlines looking for a global, sectoral approach. Airports, air navigation service providers and manufacturers—plus a multitude of other suppliers—support this position. Such a united front among stakeholders is unique to aviation and will allow the strongest possible voice to be heard at the conference.

At a meeting with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, IATA Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani stressed that the entire air transport industry is serious about its climate change responsibility. “We have united all the players with a clear strategy and targets that are even tougher than those our regulators are prepared to administer,” he said. “No other industry is as united, ambitious or determined.”

The 2009 IATA Annual General Meeting in Kuala Lumpur laid out a set of ambitious targets, which have been fully endorsed by all industry partners and presented to ICAO:

  • A cap on aviation CO2 emissions, plus carbon-neutral growth, from 2020
  • An average annual improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% from 2009 to 2020
  • A goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels

Collective engagement

Airports have long been involved in environmental mitigation. Local air quality, noise issues and impact studies of any new construction (particularly runways) are part and parcel of airport management.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, describes environmental management as a daily activity and an important part of long-term strategy. However, there has been a change in focus. “Much of the work was centred on local impact—air quality, water and biodiversity,” says Jankovec. “We needed to look at the bigger picture.”

ACI Europe is now championing collective engagement by its member airports, in the form of an Airport Carbon Accreditation program. Although the scheme has been developed in Europe, the tools it promotes can be used at any airport and Jankovec reveals there is already worldwide interest. “This is significant,” he says. “It is usually more difficult for airports to organize globally. The sector is far more fragmented than airlines and, until recently, there was still varying sensitivity between the different ACI regions as regards to climate change.”

Europe’s airports announced their commitment to carbon neutrality in June 2008, although no timeline has been set. Airport Carbon Accreditation was launched a year later, with 33 member airports signing up to the program immediately. Already, Frankfurt has become the first airport to achieve accreditation.

The first step in the program is mapping. This means identifying everything that is under direct control of airport management and developing appropriate carbon mitigation strategies. The second step—reduction—involves active mitigation of the emissions that have been mapped out. Optimization is the third step and entails engaging stakeholders beyond direct airport control, such as airlines, caterers, freight forwarders, retailers and ground handlers. Finally, there is neutrality, where the airport achieves carbon neutrality by offsetting any remaining carbon output under its direct control.

“It is about concretely engaging the airport sector to play its part in addressing the impact of aviation on climate change, alongside the airlines and other industry stakeholders,” says Jankovec. “For the traveling public and communities across Europe, Airport Carbon Accreditation is their first opportunity to see how the airport community is responding to the issue of climate change.”

OEMS go green

Airline environmental efforts will also build upon strong foundations laid by airframe and engine manufacturers. IATA estimates airlines will spend around $1.5 trillion on new aircraft by 2020. Some 5,500 aircraft will be replaced—or 27% of the total fleet—reducing CO2 emissions by 21%.

Plenty of enhancements are already available. Aircraft retrofits, such as winglets, lighter materials and advanced engine components, could improve a plane’s fuel burn by 7-13%. And the aim is that before 2020, the geared turbofan engine will provide an additional 10-15% benefit, while open rotor technology promises as much as a 25% enhancement. Aerodynamic drag will also be greatly improved, offering around a 15% increase in efficiency.

Looking beyond 2020, some truly innovative designs could use 50% less fuel than current aircraft. The blended wing body, new engine architecture and fuel cells for onboard energy will all significantly help aviation to achieve its environmental goals.

Efficiency through collaboration

Similar efforts are being made by Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). In 1999, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated airspace inefficiency at 12%. Improvements since have led the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) to claim a 4% improvement (92% efficiency), with another 4% targeted by 2050—assuming other stakeholders, especially states, assist ANSPs in their efforts.

The final 4% is unrecoverable, according to CANSO, so 96% efficiency is about the maximum achievable, given necessary trade-offs with other factors such as delays through weather, noise and safety. And, like airports and airlines, targets will have to be delivered against a background of significant traffic growth.

“It is absolutely essential for all parts of the aviation system to work together to reduce emissions,” says Samantha Sharif, CANSO’s Director of Industry Affairs. “The ANSPs have agreed to pursue targets for increasing airspace fuel efficiency, but our research shows that the majority of the improvement can only come through collaboration with airlines and airports.”

Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) is a good example of this. Sharing information and data analysis between all parties could offer a multitude of rewards. Accurate estimates of arrival and departure times should improve aircraft handling, apron services and gate management, for example. Increased efficiency in all these areas will make carbon management easier.

A Memorandum of Understanding between ACI Europe and Eurocontrol has set a goal of 42 airports implementing A-CDM by the end of 2010. This initiative will result in an estimated reduction of 475,000 tonnes of CO2, saving the airlines $180 million (€120 million) in fuel costs.

Continuous Descent Approaches (CDA) also offers considerable benefits, ending unnecessary fuel burn and the need for leveling off at many different altitudes during approach. The aim is to have CDA at 100 airports across Europe by 2013, which could save a further 500,000 tonnes of CO2.

Of course, there is an even larger potential gain in efficiency if states undertake a fundamental restructuring of airspace and invest in ATM system modernization. The clearest examples of this are SESAR in Europe and NextGen in the US. Both initiatives promise enormous environmental benefits.
The implementation of SESAR would lead to efficiency gains of 6-12%—extremely significant given that a 1% efficiency gain saves up to 500,000 tonnes of fuel per year. The European Commission estimates the implementation of SESAR would save 16 million tonnes of CO2 every year. NextGen, meanwhile, would save nearly 10 million tonnes of CO2 annually, reduce delays by 40% and create some 77,000 jobs.

Sharif notes there are two main challenges for ANSPs in improving environmental performance. First is the issue of perception. “In many parts of the world, ANSPs still do not regard aircraft CO2 emissions as a major concern,” she admits. “This may be because the environmental debate has not hit them, or that they have not made the link between reduced emissions and reduced costs for their customer. CANSO has an important role to play in bringing the issue to global prominence in the ATM community, and we have had a lot of success in that.”

The second issue is handling the interdependencies. “It is essential that these competing issues—such as noise, weather, safety, punctuality and capacity—are managed in relation to CO2 emissions,” concludes Sharif. “It requires the commitment of all stakeholders, not just ANSPs, to effectively manage these challenges and maximize airspace efficiency.”
Conclusions at the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen will need to take account of these interdependencies in the industry, as well as its global nature. Any decisions must reflect the unified position of the industry and the transparent targets already set for environmental mitigation.


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