Collaboration is key in making aviation truly sustainable
Mehmet Mercan, Operations Director at Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM), shares his insight into the aviation industry’s future sustainability targets and explains how the importance of state support incentives should not be undervalued in reaching these goals.
Within the aviation industry, biofuels, efficiency and sustainability issues are being discussed more and more. Leaders, academics, industry professionals and organisations that are shaping the future of aviation are constantly evaluating these issues and planning various roadmaps. Air transport’s commitment is to reduce emissions to 325 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050 – correspondingly to around half of the carbon emissions that were measured in 2005. Of course, this is an approximate calculation based on the average number of passengers. It is estimated that aviation’s annual growth will continue at an average of three per cent, if we do not take the impact of COVID-19 as a basis.
If we look at aircraft technologies, we can see that the industry is especially oriented towards more sustainable hydrogen and electric aircraft”
There are always risks, such as the carbon emissions of alternative vehicles, the development of technology and the effect of government intervention on aviation. If we look at aircraft technologies, we can see that the industry is especially oriented towards more sustainable hydrogen and electric aircraft. Even if these aircraft are not used over long distances, they will be a very supportive element for regional aviation.
On the subject of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), there are studies of airlines converting catering leftovers into biofuels. We can even add zero waste policies to this. Airports, as one of the cornerstones of aviation, continue to work on zero waste policies, renewable energy projects (such as terminal roof solar energy projects) and CO2 emission reduction targets.
The potential to generate income supported by renewable energy is a commercial opportunity for airports. Here, it gains importance in order to support the sector in the steps to be taken by states. States should support the industry by issuing subsidies on non-food crops and incorporating them into the renewable energy ecosystem, such as electricity-liquid. The aim of reaching carbon emission targets should be embraced by all stakeholders, and necessary studies should be supported. Companies must find their long-term balance by both limiting the budget and increasing their renewable-convertible energy investments. In particular, airlines should test sustainable fuel technology. In fact, sustainable fuel airlines are likely to influence passenger travel preferences in the near future.
The aim of reaching carbon emission targets should be embraced by all stakeholders, and necessary studies should be supported”
Engine technologies that support fuel efficiency are also developing over time, and the motto of minimum fuel-maximum distance with artificial intelligence (AI) continues with an open line to developments for the engine technology sector. In addition to airlines’ carbon emissions efforts, aircraft manufacturers are also expected to conduct research and development on hybrid, hydrogen and electric energy technologies. However, since this is inevitably related to investment and financing, the general situation of the sector will affect these decisions. In other words, in addition to reducing emission values, investment and planning is equally important for the sector.
Future projections for traffic data are not expected to improve before 2024. Consequently, it should be considered normal for airlines to act slower while taking investment steps. Different countries’ rules regarding COVID-19 passenger restrictions, uncertainties, differences in vaccine validity and, most importantly, passengers’ concerns are putting pressure on the aviation industry. It is, therefore, natural for airlines to delay their new aircraft purchases in the medium term. However, by supporting airlines with state incentives aimed at carbon emissions, more efficient aircraft can take preference for new aircraft purchases. States need to make subsidy decisions that involve the entire sector when determining their policies.
Airports will act as an exemplary study in terms of renewable energy generation and sustainable transportation opportunities”
On the airport side, we can easily see that the share of renewable investments included in new investment plans has increased. Airports will act as an exemplary study in terms of renewable energy generation and sustainable transportation opportunities, including clean energy. In addition, zero-waste infrastructure systems will be given more importance in the design and projects of airports.
Targets related to airports were included in the Paris Climate Agreement. Many references were made regarding issues such as airport emission values, emissions of ground handling equipment and the energy-efficient construction of terminals and air traffic towers. In addition, developments in technology, research and development (R&D) and the increasing preference of vehicles with high energy efficiency are seen as supporting factors for the sector. Airport investments to ensure efficiency and continuity in flight traffic, thanks to developments in these technologies, will see aircraft burning less fuel on the ground and before take-off and landing, ultimately reducing fuel costs. In this way, an interesting incentive is provided for fuel – which is one of airlines’ most important expense items. Airports that invest in these technologies will certainly be preferred in terms of routes. Automated airport efficiency systems; air traffic control (ATC) landing and take-off procedures that ensure efficient fuel consumption; efficient approach procedures using AI; air traffic flow management; airlines using electronic devices in the cockpit to minimise weight; and aircraft with efficient technology in new aircraft purchases will all be noticed. These efficiency steps need to be considered by both airports and airlines.
Airports’ support for sustainable aviation fuel technologies should be supported by government subsidies”
When evaluating fuel consumption, it becomes clear that the companies supplying fuel to airlines must switch to biofuel and accelerate the process with help from government incentives. Airports’ support for sustainable aviation fuel technologies should be supported by government subsidies. State support and regulation in new airport projects will increase the share of the sustainable fuel technology sector and support a reduction in the expenses of all stakeholders in the long run. Aircraft seats made from lighter materials; changing technical manuals used by cabin crew for electronic tablets; Airport Command and Control (AOCC) units synchronising information with airlines and implementing the highest efficiency plan; aircraft manufacturers working on engines that use fully electric technology during taxi; turning off the auxiliary power unit (APU) while the aircraft is on the ground and using ground power units (GPU) directly from the bridge; and equipping airports with solar energy systems are examples of such operational measures. These measures, which can seem like little savings, seriously affect carbon emissions globally in the long run. We should not forget that we save 3.15kg of CO2 emissions for every 1kg of fuel savings, and that an aircraft engine operating with one per cent fuel efficiency returns 1.2 million tonnes of fuel per year to the airline.
The passenger profile in aviation has changed in the last 30 years. Air travel is no longer only affordable by the wealthy. As different economic models have emerged, various price opportunities have been provided to passengers. Today, when we evaluate the COVID-19 data and make forward projections, we can review the factors that will affect passenger traffic. Various negative situations – such as the increase in fuel; passenger economic difficulties and, particularly, unemployment due to COVID-19; regional political and economic problems; insufficient state incentives; and lack of passenger confidence – will affect passenger traffic. According to the 2017 report of the United Nations (UN) International Labor Organization, 164 million immigrants live in the world and almost five per cent of the total working population is composed of immigrants. Considering that these employees will affect travel traffic between developed and underdeveloped countries and are restricted due to COVID-19, we can foresee a rapid acceleration in passenger projection after 2023.
Rail systems technologies, which are seen as a threat to aviation, have become an important means of transportation, together with electric train technologies that emit zero carbon emissions. However, train transport should play a complementary role rather than be seen as a competitor to the airline. High-speed train services can be considered as a combined journey for transportation to airports and domestic transportation opportunities.
Mehmet Mercan has worked as Operations Director at Diori Hamani International Airport since 2020. He has around six years of ground and terminal operation and planning experience in the aviation sector. He graduated in aviation management from the Civil Aviation Faculty of the Ondokuzmayıs University in 2015. He is currently doing his Master’s degree in Aviation Management at Gelişim University.
Summa Airports has managed Diori Hamani International Airport since May 2019. Summa Airports is responsible for the management, operation and development of Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM).
Aircraft, Airside operations, COVID-19, Emissions, Ground handling, New technologies, Passenger experience and seamless travel, Passenger volumes, Sustainability, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), Sustainable development, Terminal operations