The 21st-century ground handler has a role to play in creating and delivering sustainable, green airports worldwide, discovers James Graham
The airport has been described as being the most visible part of the air transport industry, while offering the best opportunity for propelling aviation towards more sustainable and more climate-neutral operations. Politicians, environmentalists, airport managers and planners in some of the most important aviation markets in the world are shaping the conversation on how to mitigate the impact of airport infrastructure and operations on the local, national and global environment.
Besides carbon dioxide (CO2) driving climate change, climate-neutral operations also encompass mitigation of other greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O). Energy captured from airport operations could be used to replace conventional power sources. In addition, gases from other sources will be captured, stored and transferred to be reused in a different location.
When aircraft are connected to the ground, mitigating possible gas emissions depends on the type of aircraft engines. Engine exhausts require solutions like linking them up with an airport gas collection infrastructure.
Miami International Airport (MIA), located on 3,230 acres of land near downtown Miami, is America’s second-busiest airport for international passengers, boasts a line-up of over100 air carriers and is the top US airport for international freight.
Under the watch of director of environmental facilities Pedro Hernandez, the airport is undertaking its largest ever green initiative: its Sustainability Project, one of the biggest energy-saving programmes yet in the state of Florida and in the eastern US. Over the next two years, the project will install US$32 million worth of air conditioning and ventilation upgrades, water conservation retrofits, energy-efficient lighting, and other conservation measures at MIA, which will save the airport more than US$40 million in utility costs by reducing energy use over the 14-year agreement with Florida Power & Light Services (FPLS).
Hernandez says: “MIA has several green initiatives already in place to preserve the environment like the oil/water separators on the ramps, the electric generators connection for the gates, the recycling containers for cardboard, bottles and cans. Continual improvement is part of the requirements to maintain the ISO 14001 certification. Not only airside but in general the airport has an Environmental Management System that gives guidance to minimise the risks of possible pollutants entering into the environment. Future improvement is to increase the number of gates with 400Hz power.”
The airport’s next initiatives will see an expansion of recycling, a reduction of power consumption by replacing regular lamps for LED lamps, and the reduction of CO2 emissions by replacing buses and vans with an electric rail service from the MIC (Miami Intermodal Center) to the terminal.
Hernandez outlines: “The MIA Mover completely replaces the Rental Car Center shuttle bus service previously in operation, eliminating approximately 1,400 shuttle bus trips per day and reducing carbon emissions from MIA’s roadways by 15 to 30%. Electric tugs are not under MIA control but there are electric tugs in use at MIA.”
The construction of the MIC concentrated all car rental companies under one roof, and the MIA Mover connects the metrorail and the TRIRAIL to the airport, eliminating shuttle bus journeys to the terminal to pick up and drop off customers. In addition, the county has mandated all new buildings to have a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating of Silver.
MIA has also reduced the travel distance for the fuelling trucks airside with the establishment of the West End Fuel Tender Facility. The diesel fuel use reduction as a result of shorter distance is expected at 20,890 US gallons (80,000l) per year. Hernandez accepts that, because of the nature of the differences in the traffic between airside and landside, sometimes good initiatives implemented landside cannot be applied airside
The European Union (EU) has developed the concept of the ‘Ultra-Green airport 2050+’ project on the basis that aircraft in 2050 and beyond will be optimised in terms of fuel efficiency. The ideal future climate-neutral airport proposed is built upon a number of principles:
• Self-supporting with regard to its energy needs
• Operating in a climate-neutral way
• Aircraft ground operations including taxiing, landing roll-out and departing take-off do not generate noise causing hindrance to the municipalities surrounding the airport
• The airport facilitates an aircraft-ground-passenger interface that is directly coupled to a multi-modal infrastructure
Innovative systems could generate energy at the airport to move it towards self-sufficiency. This could be done by, for example, arrestor cables that decelerate landing aircraft and convert kinetic energy into electrical energy. Sustainable energy sources like solar panels are installed as far as possible. Conventional fossil fuels will be replaced by other fuel sources partly produced directly at the airport.
News of this initiative has spread to North America. MIA’s Hernandez comments: “Yes, it is a very interesting initiative made by the leaders of the European Union and the G8 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.”
Electromobility is becoming the watchword in the move to sustainable environmental, energy and transport policy at an airport. Carbon-powered apron equipment, such as tugs, passenger buses, airport power plant, fleet vehicles, ground support equipment and emergency power supply will be replaced with battery-powered versions.
According to Brad Streeter, general manager of Idaho, US-based ground handler AERO Specialties, there will be great demand for electric propulsion on the apron. He says: “I would classify this as a market demand for an electric option. It is still not anywhere near as popular, or in some cases as good of a fit, as traditional units for a large portion of the marketplace. Initial pricing is more expensive (upfront costs) and proper maintenance is something users still struggle with (keeping battery systems in top shape).
“In some markets, California for example, it is very popular though due to stringent EPA requirements and the CARB credits an electric vehicle offers an organisation. Some users love them and they do the limited maintenance required to reap the benefits that an electric tractor can offer though. With proper training and maintenance they really are incredible machines. Most operations could benefit greatly but it is a gradual process educating the public on these benefits and changing some mindsets.”
In 2014, the Boeing 737 was certified for TaxiBot dispatch towing. TaxiBot is a towbar-less 800hp-strong hybrid-electric aircraft tractor, controlled by the pilot and intended for towing aircraft between the gate and the runway with the aircraft’s engines turned off.
The Supplement Type Certificate (STC) was issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI). In February, 2015 an MoU for wide-body aircraft certification testing was signed.
Following approval by EASA, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik, Lufthansa LEOS, commenced operations with the innovative TaxiBot in real-flight operations at Frankfurt Airport.
“The Lufthansa Group is setting global standards in sustainable mobility. With innovations like the TaxiBot, we are not only helping to conserve fuel but are also making an important contribution towards reducing noise and exhaust emissions at airports,” says Kay Kratky, member of the Lufthansa German Airlines board – Operations & Hub Frankfurt. The use of the TaxiBot at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub can save up to 2,700 tonnes of fuel on long-haul flights per year. TaxiBot’s in-service evaluation was on regular commercial Lufthansa Boeing 737 flights out of Frankfurt Airport.
The TaxiBot has been in development for several years in collaboration between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), global GSE manufacturer TLD Group and Lufthansa Technik. This innovative system will be eco-friendly and will save millions of dollars in fuel for airlines, ground handling companies and airports by reducing fuel use by customers to reduce carbon emissions.
Another taxiing product, WheelTug, has taken an alternative route towards engine-free taxiing by using high-performance electric motors installed in the nose gear wheels of an aircraft. While averting the need for a vehicle, the onboard system adds weight to the aircraft and therefore extra fuel use in flight but this is offset by faster turnaround times and an 80% reduction in ground operation fuel consumption, claims WheelTug. It estimates a taxiing Boeing 737 burns 24 to 27 pounds (10.9-12.2kg) of fuel per minute, whereas the WheelTug system uses only four pounds because it is electrically powered by the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU).
At the same time, Lufthansa Technik’s ground handling subsidiary Lufthansa LEOS has signed a contract with Sweden’s Kalmar Motor to join in developing an electrically powered hybrid towbarless tractor capable of towing aircraft as large as the Airbus A380 for distances up to seven kilometres.
Other electromobility concepts for airport surface movements are currently in the development and test phase. Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs subsidiary, for example, is working with partners in the eLift project to develop an electrically-powered catering hoist vehicle. Not only is the vehicle itself powered via an electric motor; integrated components such as the hoist itself are to be electrified, too. The running gear and the superstructure are separated in both mechanical and energy terms, so that the two systems can be independently supplied with power.
Clever airport design
Architects and planners, meanwhile, are turning to the physical infrastructure of the airport or are designing in eco-measures on the drawing board.
The new Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was designed to achieve LEED Silver certification by the US Green Building Council, making it one of the few airport terminals in the United States to achieve this status.
Sustainable features include sunbathed terminals, water-efficient plumbing fixtures, and expansion of LAX’s existing recycling programme to cover diversion of 75% of construction waste from landfills by designating salvage, reuse, and recycle components.
In India, Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) is set to become the first airport in the country to operate on solar power, becoming power neutral.
In 2013, CIAL installed a 100kWp solar photovoltaic (PV) power station on the arrival terminal roof. This is a grid-connected system without any battery storage. Following that, CIAL installed a 1 MWp solar PV power plant partly on the rooftop and partly on the ground of the aircraft maintenance hangar facility. This plant was installed by Emvee Photovoltaic Power.
CIAL set up a 12MWp solar PV plant on 45 acres near its air cargo premises, coming on line in August 2015.
Whatever the arguments for and against the concept of global warming, it is undeniable that the global aviation ground handling industry has a role to play in delivering greener aviation. Even in the oil-rich Middle East market, handlers such as Sharjah Aviation Services have plans to ‘Go Green’. The company’s initiative aims to significantly reduce carbon emissions from its activities.
One of its goals is to replace the company’s fleet of 200 diesel and petrol-powered ground vehicles at Sharjah with low emission equivalents by 2020, with more than 50 electric vehicles scheduled to be introduced in the next five years. The initiative has been launched in partnership with the company’s co-owners, Air Arabia, the Middle East’s first low-cost carrier, and the Sharjah Airport Authority.