Green Airports Taking Off

Feature

March 28, 2017

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Not only planes, but airports are also responsible for carbon emissions in the civil aviation sector. Indian airports such as the ones in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Vadodara have taken steps to minimise their carbon footprints.

The 45-acre facility near the cargo complex of the Cochin International Airport is impressive: 46,000 solar panels are installed, in a futuristic decor that resembles the set of a science fiction film more than a traditional airport.

This huge solar panel farm in Kerala, in southern India, produces between 50,000 and 60,000 power units-a-day, making the Kochi airport ‘absolutely power neutral’, saving 300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to its management. It is the first airport of its kind in the world, on that scale, to be powered only by solar energy. Using an even more telling image, in the next 25 years, the positive impact of this solar panel strategy in terms of carbon emissions saving would be equivalent to planting three million trees, says the airport staff.

Kochi airport, built with a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), developed these solutions over the years. It started using solar panels in March 2013, in a 100 KW (Kilowatts) unit on the rooftop of the arrival terminal. It progressively expanded this solar programme, with a big solar park near cargo facilities. Not only planes, but airports are also responsible for carbon emissions in the civil aviation sector. Indian airports such as the ones in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Vadodara have taken steps to minimise their carbon footprints.  The 12 MW (Megawatts) project that cost INR 620 million (EUR 10 million) and took six months to be fully implemented, became operational last August. It produces 18 million power units per year, which could answer the annual needs of 10,000 homes. The airport then sells the energy produced to the Kerala State Electricity Board, through the electricity grid.

VJ Kurian, Managing Director of Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) said that this sustainable approach is a must for an airport that consumes around 48,000 units of power a day. While it saves money on the long run, it also sends a ‘message to the world’ in terms of innovative approach. This strategy is also clearly an answer to the challenges of the near future. Kochi airport’s traffic is growing steadily, with already 6.8 million passengers in the financial year 2014-15, making it the fourth Indian airport for international passengers. Kochi records more than 1,100 aircraft movements per week and the trend is definitely upward.

Green airports are gaining momentum in India. Last October, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new terminal building of Vadodara’s Harni Airport in Gujarat, which he described as India’s second green airport after Kochi. This new facility, dotted notably with rainwater harvesting systems and energy-saving cooling mechanisms, was designed and built by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). It aims at increasing the airport’s total capacity from 450 to 700 passengers per hour.

Green airports are gradually becoming a necessity all around the country for the very same reasons: a booming traffic, pressure to reduce carbon emissions and for financial and sustainable imperatives. India is amongst the top five fastest growing countries for plane passengers. In the fiscal 2015-2016, Indian airports had a total of 223.6 million passengers (almost 55 million international passengers and 169 million domestic ones). Its growth, therefore, in terms of passengers is one of the fastest in the world with an estimate to reach 367 million passengers by 2034, according to a report by International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Noise pollution monitoring in Delhi

One often thinks about planes and kerosene in terms of carbon emissions and pollution, but the carbon footprint of airports themselves is far from being a marginal one. Nearly 35 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted by the airports activities in 2013 in the world, weighing 5 pc of the total CO2 emissions of the entire aviation sector. Amongst them, around 0.78 million tonnes of CO2 were emitted by Indian airports, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), a government regulatory body responsible for civil aviation in India.

Like Kochi, other big Indian airports have implemented comprehensive green solutions to address this issue. It is not only a matter of green energy and solar panels that all major airports now adopt, but more a global approach to ensure sustainable practices at all levels including the implementation of environmental standards and controls, green infrastructures, minimising noise pollution, adopting sustainable best practices, developing fuel efficiency, employing a resource conservation policy dealing with energy and water and systematic recycling.

In 2009, the DGCA set up an Aviation Environmental Unit to deal with these aspects and assess airports’ carbon footprint at large. All stakeholders such as the airlines, navigation service providers – from flight tracking system to optimising takeoff and landing time – and airport authorities are concerned. Since 2011, the DGCA submits a monthly data on fuel consumption to draft a carbon emission map.

Moreover, an independent carbon management certification standard, Airport Carbon Accreditation, developed by Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, ranks airports according to their performance in terms of greenhouse gases emission. As per their standards, the airports in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have acquired a level 3 accreditation.

Each big Indian airport, apart from developing green energy sources, has innovated in one or several specific areas of the green approach. Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, the busiest one in India with more than 48 million passengers in the fiscal 2015-16, is for instance at the forefront in monitoring noise pollution.

The airport at the capital has taken various noise mitigation steps such as the distribution of aircraft movement to minimise the nuisance in a particular area, restricted operation of old and more noisy aircraft and an automatic aircraft noise monitoring system for runways to identify noisy aircraft. Additionally, a special helpline number is effective to file a complaint regarding aircraft noise.

The EU-India Civil Aviation Cooperation Programme that focuses on sustainable best practices facilitated the design and implementation of this programme at the New Delhi airport. Furthermore, the noise study conducted at the airport has become a standard for big airports in India.

Efforts of the busiest airports

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) in Mumbai, the second busiest Indian airport with more than 41 million passengers, aims at being carbon neutral as well. This is evident through the accreditations acquired by the airport such as ISO 14064-1:2006 certification for its carbon emissions accounting in 2013 by Bureau Veritas, a global leader in carbon certification, and Airport Carbon Accreditation Level III by ACI in 2015. Notably, CSIA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduced by 6,193 tonnes in 2012 as compared to 2011.

More recently, it replaced the conventional bulbs with LED at various locations of the airport that has helped in reducing the GHG emission by 200 tonnes per year. To monitor its emission, the airport maps its activities that range from greenhouse gases emissions to water management, from direct emissions to indirect ones such as the travel logs of the employees.

Bengaluru International Airport, the third busiest in India with almost 19 million passengers, was granted a Gold rating in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a US-based green rating system, for its eco-friendly, sustainable and energy-efficient building design, by the Indian Green Building Council. The airport will also install a 2 MW solar power plant and connect it to the grid.

Around Hyderabad airport, which has more than 12 million passengers, the emphasis is also put on the immediate environment being affected by the airport activities. A 273-hectare green belt has been planted to strike an ecological balance. Besides, 971 hectares of natural green space has been left as it was before. The airport has also developed water treatment plants. Through this the airport also tries to address an important issue of the biodiversity that is endangered by airport developments because of habitat destruction. The natural ecosystem can be harmed notably through light, air or noise pollution or bird strikes.

Green airports development is, therefore, also about creating a sustainable ecosystem inside and outside airport facilities. For instance, use of public transport such as metros and buses to reach the airport limits the car trips and traffic jams. Ultimately, the clients and passengers also must support the sustainable efforts through adopting the best practices and checking or comparing carbon emissions of airports and airlines.

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