We're not just focusing on aircraft emissions.
Most environmental concerns around air travel focus on the role of aircraft. But associated infrastructure, which include airports and flight paths, also have an impact on the environment and improvements can be made to be more environmentally sound.
Airports and ground facilities
When viewed as part of the efforts being made to reduce emissions across the entire industry, incorporating environmentally-sound features into airports, factories and other facilities is increasingly important. Ground facilities are essential to the industry and have a responsibility to become more energy efficient.
Airports are investing in offsetting schemes to become carbon neutral, most notably the ACI Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, building ‘green-certified’ terminals, reducing on-airport vehicle emissions by introducing automatic metro lines, or switching to vehicles with alternative fuels and low-emission technology, and providing electricity to aircraft at terminal gates using fixed electrical ground power rather than the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit.
A large number of airports are installing solar and other alternative energy supplies for terminal buildings.
There is a significant impact on emissions from congestion at airports. When flights have to hold and circle before they land, or queue on taxiways before taking off, it is not only inconvenient to passengers, but also adds to fuel use. These inefficiencies are continually looked at to determine whether measures such as operating restrictions on flights or new facilities like runways are needed.
One way that the industry is working to reduce congestion and delay (and therefore fuel use) is collaborative decision making (A-CDM), with all parties working together to make sure that flights don’t start their engines until there is a confirmed take-off time and a slot at the destination airport.
Air traffic management
Perhaps the biggest area of infrastructure impact on aircraft fuel burn is the air traffic management system. The route a plane takes, the height it flies, and the weather it flies through, all affect the amount of fuel it burns and therefore the CO2 it emits. These factors are managed by air navigation service providers (ANSPs), the companies that provide air traffic control services.
Around the world, ANSPs are helping the industry improve its environmental performance by making better use of airspace design and optimising aircraft performance across all phases of flight. ANSPs work with regulators, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airports, pilots and engineers to optimise ground and flight operations to improve overall aircraft performance.
In Europe, the unification and simplification of national air traffic management into a Single European Sky would reduce circuitous flight paths. Currently, the European airspace is split up along national boundaries with 45 different ANSPs controlling the airspace. While the operations are very safe, this does lead to duplication of resources and, importantly, an inability to manage the traffic in the most efficient way possible. The Single European Sky is meant to be a step-by-step process towards a less fragmented airspace and, according to the European Commission, this better use of airspace will save upwards of 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually. However, progress towards this has been slow and the industry is concerned that, without governments making the Single European Sky a priority, both air traffic congestion and the impact on the environment will increase. Urgent focus is needed to get the project moving.
Similarly, in the United States the air traffic management modernisation programme known as NextGen is not making as steady progress as is needed. Although the United States is one single air traffic zone, the system is in need of a more modern approach to handling aircraft traffic, leaving behind the processes that have been in place for decades and taking a more advanced and dynamic approach to traffic management.