Five solutions for sustainability transition at airports

Climate change is the pressing issue of our time. In the years to come its impacts are only likely to increase; changing the way we live, work and - particularly for the aviation industry – how we fly. The current level of global aviation emissions stands at 3%. By 2050, it could hit 20% - 50% - even with operational improvements and incremental engine innovations. The industry needs to think big and think bold – exploring new innovations and embracing fresh perspectives - from big ideas achievable in the near-future, to actionable steps which could help pave the way towards that future.
Five solutions for sustainability transition at airports
At NACO, we embed sustainability and create resilience-by-design at the very core of our projects – meeting our clients’ needs now and future-proofing their airports for tomorrow. From sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and efficient building design to renewable energy and climate change adaptation – explore five of the game changing solutions that could transform the face of aviation – and your airport – in the coming decades.
Five solutions for sustainability transition at airports

Onsite Renewable Energy

Due to their unique features, airports consume large amounts of natural resources – namely electricity and fuel. Where global primary energy consumption has grown 50%, global renewable energy stands at 11% of the total energy mix. To meet their sustainability goals, airports can employ onsite renewable energies which are sustainable – and will serve to drive down both costs and energy consumption in the long-term.

Large roof areas of airports make solar an attractive option to harness those solar arrays. At NACO, we assist our clients in their renewable energy strategy, renewables design integration, and implementation into their airport.

Traditional horizontal wind turbines have blades that create turbulent air behind them, which can lead to air safety issues for low-flying aircraft such as helicopters and soon-to-fly UAM vehicles. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT) eliminate issues with wind turbulence while having a smaller land use requirement by virtue of the blades being vertical and thin.

Geothermal energy, as well, is capable of both heating and cooling airport buildings, is emerging as a promising renewable energy for airports looking to make the energy they consume more sustainable. As this energy system is primarily underground, it’s ideal for airports with minimal space to allocate.

Intermodal transport hub

An airport acting as a transport hub enables it to not only connect international flight traffic but to act as a domestic transport hub for all modes of transport. As a transport hub, an airport can diversify its role in its community and contribute to promoting sustainable journeys both to/from the airport – via bus, tram, or rail – making it easier for intermodal connections in passengers’ itineraries. An intermodal hub not only enhances the passenger experience but also improves the connectivity of the region, which in turn has a positive economic impact.

NACO and Royal HaskoningDHV can assist airports to design world-class multimodal sustainable transport hubs to improve frequency and access for different modes of transport. From high-speed rail and public transport to parking facilities and tour buses, we create the next generation of airports that functions as multimodal transport hub.

Fuel innovations

It is undeniable that to meet NetZero 2050 targets, and tackle climate change, new fuel sources must be explored and implemented. In this area, there are several promising developments.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), for example, is a “drop-in” fuel that allows for a substantial decrease in aircraft emissions with little change to existing infrastructure. SAF is produced from sustainable sources such as biomass (ex. algae) and waste feedstocks (ex. food waste, municipal and agricultural waste) and is refined at dedicated SAF refineries. These refineries can then transport SAF via direct pipelines to airports, further reducing the overall emissions impact of the fuel.

Elsewhere, lithium-ion battery-electric aircraft have been gaining momentum in recent years, with key airlines and airports seeking to deploy and accommodate the aircraft respectively. Electric aircraft in development right now is a 9 – 19-seater aircraft, capable of short flights, due to energy density constraints with lithium-ion batteries. Through research and collaboration between key stakeholders, the electric battery aircraft will evolve to become a commercial proposition.
Five solutions for sustainability transition at airports

Finally, hydrogen usage in aircraft has seen a major boost recently, with traditional aircraft manufacturers and start-ups both designing and seeking to implement hydrogen propelled? aircraft into service as soon as 2025. The challenge, however, is the “non-drop in” nature of this fuel. This will require effective collaboration between airports and airlines to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is available when the aircraft is put in service.

New aircraft designs

From TU Delft | KLM V-Wing, to the Heart Aerospace ES-19, or the Airbus ZeroE programme concepts; innovative aircraft concepts and designs are rapidly emerging in response to the industry push for net-zero by 2050.

Urban Air Mobility (UAM) innovations promise low maintenance costs and zero emissions with quiet operations possible from both airports and dedicated “vertiports”. Developments in this space have been growing year on year, with traditional aircraft manufacturers, start-up manufacturers, airlines, and aircraft leasing companies alike all getting involved in this quickly evolving sector. When these aircraft go from concept to real-life, airports need to prepare their infrastructure to accommodate them, whatever their needs may be.

Circular buildings and materials

A circular building incorporates numerous design features and initiatives for a circular economy, both internal and external to the airport.

Circular practices for airports internally could include low/no carbon building materials and packaging for products; a waste separation policy, locally produced goods, on-building renewable energy generation, and triple-glazed window glass. Externally, airports can also employ circular practices with noise abatement policies, materials hub for material re-use in future projects, stormwater re-use, biodiversity for plants and wildlife.

Both the external and internal initiatives culminate in a sustainable future-proof design that is increasingly looking towards sustainability and circularity in both design and operation.

To strive for a circular economy, airports can utilise recycled materials from the site while enhancing the cost-effectiveness in the construction practices. Runway repair and replacement is a decisive point in an airport’s commitment to a sustainable future, where the types of materials used can lead to gains in not only finances but the overall circular economy at the airport. Rehabilitation or reconstruction of pavement can make use of recycled materials since techniques and equipment are readily available to recycle old pavement materials into base and subbase materials.

Solutions that meet your needs, at each step of the transition

At NACO, we know developing a sustainable airport is not an overnight project; it requires vision and commitment. Any strategy at its heart must be tailored to your airport’s unique needs, ambitions and limitations. From that foundation, progress is driven by collaboration between key stakeholders to realise a sustainable airport transition.
At NACO, enabling an integrated approach to sustainable airport strategy is what we do; optimizing and enhancing outcomes using our decades of experience at the forefront of the aviation industry. If you’re looking for a partner to realize your vision, or an expert opinion on your plans in progress, get in touch with us today.
Eoghan Davis - Aviation Sustainability Consultant


Aviation Sustainability Consultant