Electrification at Europe’s airports: Building back better sustainably


To what extent can electrification reduce emissions at European airports? That was the topic on the table at one of EUROCONTROL’s recent sustainability stakeholder forums.

To what extent can electrification reduce emissions at European airports? That was the topic on the table at one of EUROCONTROL’s recent sustainability stakeholder forums.

While the pandemic has created massive problems for all airports, with passenger numbers still depressed and movements far short of 2019 levels, Europe’s airports remain passionately committed to building back more sustainably. 235 European airports, accounting for 68% of European passenger traffic in 2019, recently backed the aviation sector’s commitment to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest. 91 airports of these are set to deliver on their net zero commitment already by 2030. Amsterdam-Schiphol is one of them.

“Once we recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we also want future generations to fly, travel and explore the world. But we cannot do it the way we have done in the past.”

Richard Emmerink Director of Strategy and Airport Planning, Royal Schiphol Group

His team is working to electrify Royal Schiphol Group’s airports Amsterdam-Schiphol, Rotterdam The Hague and Lelystad and ensure the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels in the future. “We want to create the most sustainable, high-quality airports. Achieving sustainability is going to become our licence to operate.”

To increase airside electrification, Royal Schiphol Group is working closely with Smart Airport Systems (SAS), a company that provides technology solutions to airlines and airports to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise. Smart Airport Systems’ portfolio includes units for electrical power and air-conditioning – also called 'APU off' – which are a real alternative to the on-ground use of an aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU) during pre-flight operations, boarding and maintenance. Smart Airport Systems also offers a solution for sustainable taxiing called TaxiBot®. Controlled by the pilot while aircraft engines are off, using this vehicle can reduce fuel consumption during taxi up to 85%, reduce COand other noxious emissions during taxiing up to 85%, and diminish noise by up to 60%.

CDG Lebrun

While the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels is currently hindered by their high cost and limited availability, TaxiBot® is a comparably cheaper alternative that can be implemented today to significantly and immediately drive down emissions from aircraft operations on the ground, claims Maxime Mahieu, company CEO.

“We believe that the green transformation of airports will be achieved by giving financial incentives to airlines or airports and not through additional costs. With 55% of total airport emissions, aircraft operations are the main source of CO2 emissions at airports. Our solutions are addressing emissions from APU and taxiing which correspond to roughly 30% of total airport emissions without generating any additional cost to the airlines or airports.”

Maxime Mahieu CEO, Smart Airport Systems

There is a significant potential for emission reduction, Thomas Lagaillarde of Airbus Company NAVBLUE agrees:

“Anything we can do to optimise on the ground, to use electrical equipment on the ground, will reduce the time when engines are running.”

Thomas Lagaillarde Head of Product Portfolio and Programmes and Managing Director Canada , NAVBLUE, an Airbus Company

However, he emphasises, that also poses new challenges: “It requires synchronisation between different stakeholders, and having a better communication platform is key to reducing the environmental impact of aviation. Today, the optimisation of ground movement is only beginning compared to the level achieved by airlines for the flight part.”

Smart Airport Systems solutions seem therefore to square the circle: they can be introduced at little cost to airlines and airports, and deliver strong results in terms of sustainability – so where is the catch? Richard Emmerink acknowledges that the use of TaxiBot® at a capacity-constrained airport such as Amsterdam Schiphol may lead to more complex processes on the ground and the need for infrastructure adjustments.

However, he emphasises, “at Schiphol we have the objective to have TaxiBot® operation in place by 2030. Not just because of savings, but also because we want to improve local air quality and (ultra) fine particles, which can be tackled through the use of TaxiBot®. We are actively engaged with Smart Airport Systems to learn what needs to be done in busy operations to get it done.”

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