Addressing the environmental concern to air service development

While it is clear that air service development brings significant economic benefits to destinations, environmental and sustainability challenges are now clear business risks that need by all parties in the network development process.

Aviation is a catalyst for growth, a vital conduit for world trade, and a major global employer. Nearly 63 million jobs and $2.4 trillion in global GDP are supported by aviation. But with these benefits comes an impact on the environment. Whether that is climate change, aircraft noise, local air quality, environment advocacy actions and most recently illegal wildlife trafficking.

Environmental impacts are increasingly impacting upon aviation in general and in particular at airports. Many are subject to operational restrictions, fail to secure approvals or the necessary resources for growth simply because the environment has not been properly addressed in the business planning process.

Strategic and short terms investments are required to sustain long term growth. Trade-offs have to be made to ensure the appropriate balance is achieved between minimising operating costs, investing in capacity, meeting service partner needs, ensuring customer services standards and reducing environmental impacts.

For an airport, the opportunities and risks posed by environmental issues can have a significant impact on businesses success. Indecision over the potential construction of a new runway at London Heathrow or London Gatwick is evidence of this, as is the fact that major airports across Europe and other part of the world are subject to environmentally based operational and growth constraints.

These commonly arise from impacts such as noise and local air quality, but in recent years, government efforts to control climate change mean that some airports are now subject to CO2 limits. The effects of climate change itself will also impact upon airport capacity and growth, increasing operating costs and even, in some areas of the world, threatening operational limits linked to issues such as water availability.

Professor Callum Thomas, chair of sustainable aviation at Manchester Metropolitan University, says many airports are already constrained to operate below their infrastructure capacity as a result of environmental issues. “If the environment is a constraint to growth, then effective environmental management is the key to growth,” he says.

Over the past 50 years the air transport industry has transformed the world in which we live, creating and supporting new patterns of trade and migration, the multicultural society found in many parts of the world and the international tourism industry. The concern of the academic is that we cannot predict the role the industry will play “in the environmentally constrained world of the second half of the 21st Century.”

“This will depend upon the way in which we deal with the adverse environmental impacts arising from aviation today, and in particular the challenge that will be posed by the changing climate over the coming decades,” adds Thomas.

The Centre for Aviation, Transport and the Environment (CATE) at the Manchester Metropolitan University has a 25 year track record of research and knowledge transfer in the field of sustainable aviation, securing over £20 million research income from government and industry.

Effective environmental management, and therefore sustainable growth, clearly requires the collaboration and cooperation of all the different stakeholders in the air transport industry: airport operators, airlines, air traffic management providers, ground transport companies and even retail and catering companies and, of course, the travelling public.

Environmental management systems used at airports are unique, involving sometimes hundreds of different companies, of different sizes and all with different and sometimes conflicting interests. These conflicting interests can have significant commercial implications, for example between the need to promote public transport access to airports and the resulting loss of car park income.

Environmental business risks need to be understood if the correct strategic and operational decisions are to be made. “The flight path into and out of an airport can affect the daily lives of tens of thousands of people,” explains Professor Thomas.

“The air quality around an airport, which can impact upon the health of thousands of local residents, is influenced by millions of cars, tens of thousands of aircraft movements, onsite generation of energy and handling of aircraft on the ramp. For climate change, while aviation is responsible for 2-3% of CO2 emissions from human activities, the proportion of people around the world who fly is tiny. What happens in the future when the Chinese and Indians become as mobile as the Europeans?” he adds.

To tackle these issues The Centre for Aviation, Transport and the Environment (CATE) in partnership with ASM (Airport Strategy and Marketing) have launched a new training course that explains how to manage the environmental issues that can impact upon airport growth and development. The Environment – Opportunities and Risks for Airports course takes place on 2nd-3rd November 2016 in London. Attendees will gain valuable insight into how to tackle the environment issues facing airports, how to manage the business risk that they pose and how to maximise the potential for air transport to contribute to city and regional development.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…