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Greening European ATM’s ground infrastructure

Greening European ATM’s ground infrastructure

What could ANSPs achieve over the next decade?

6.2+ million tonnes CO2 emissions could be saved by 2050 by decarbonising air traffic management (ATM) ground infrastructure, suggests EUROCONTROL’s latest Think Paper.

As the aviation sector has firmly committed to do its part in the fight against climate change, progressively decarbonising European ATM’s ground infrastructure is both realistic and achievable, our paper argues, and could deliver large potential emissions savings in support of aviation’s overall decarbonisation goals.

European air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are estimated to consume 1,140 GWh of electricity annually, roughly equivalent to 55% of the annual electricity consumption of Malta. We estimate that switching to renewable energy and making energy-efficient investments could save ANSPs over 311K tonnes of CO2 every year.

Our Think Paper makes a very first assessment of the extent of ANSP infrastructure, which includes well over 6,000 communications, navigation and surveillance ground-based facilities across Europe, as well as over 400 control towers, over 60 area control centres, and various offices. After modelling the total predicted energy consumption of this infrastructure, we then calculate the CO2 equivalent (CO2) emissions that would be produced as a result.

“This Think Paper is a good attempt to fill a significant gap in measuring environmental performance among ANSPs. There are pockets of encouraging activity around Europe, but this shouldn’t be the exception. We must all do better at measuring, managing, improving and reporting our environmental performance.”

Jarlath Molloy Senior Environmental Affairs Manager, NATS

Progress has already been made by some ANSPs towards switching to renewable energy contracts, or greening their facilities, which serve as best practice for their peers: UK air navigation provider NATS has purchased renewable electricity for over 96% of total electricity consumed in 2020-2021 (up from 93% in the previous reporting year). This is an example of a portfolio of activities that led to NATS being identified as a European Climate Leader by the Financial Times in 2021 for its environmental performance since 2014.

Italian air navigation service provider ENAV has set itself the goal to become a carbon neutral company by 2022 through a substantial reduction in emissions. Emissions are to be reduced by 23% in 2021, by 80% in 2022 and, again in 2022, the quantity of residual emissions will be offset by purchasing carbon credits or by financing environmental protection projects such as the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in India and the replacement of polluting stoves in some rural settlement in Mozambique.

Think paper 13 cover

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“The Think Paper is a particularly important tool for benchmarking decarbonisation initiatives among the various ANSPs. It also aids collaboration between companies and promotes the development both of increasingly sustainable routes and also of strategies that are based on ethics and transparency – and which actively contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Davide Tassi Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, ENAV

The Think Paper makes a series of assumptions based on an assessment of the scope of the known or estimated infrastructure – with some caveats based on the nature of the main types of facility.  On the communications side, many facilities have to be kept in a specific temperature range to function as guaranteed, requiring air conditioning which adds additional power consumption. Thus, for a communications antenna,  its  power  use  is  likely  to  be  substantially  less  than its air conditioning unit.

On the other hand, the power  consumption  of  a  primary  radar  station  emitting electromagnetic  pulses,  including  all  the  electronics  and  rotating elements, will be substantially greater than any air conditioning it may require. For  communications  equipment  in  particular,  it  may  be  impossible  for  an  ANSP  to  isolate  the  power  consumption  of an antenna if it is located on top of a building operated by a third party. For navigation and surveillance facilities, their nature as single-purpose installations only developed for and operated  by  air  traffic  control  should  make  it  easier  to  calculate individual energy consumption; this information is not however publicly available, since facilities’ performance requirements are generally covered in confidential supplier contracts.

Estimating ANSPs’ energy consumption therefore requires  a  different  approach.  Some ANSPs  do  publish  annual aggregated energy consumption data, and this Think Paper uses this to develop a ballpark figure.

“EUROCONTROL’s  Think Paper on decarbonising European ATM ground infrastructure paves the way for more sustainable equipment thinking. It clearly demonstrates how, in order to conduct decarbonising activities, all elements that contribute to an increase in an ANSP's environmental footprint must be examined. Rapid decarbonisation is a critical strategic activity for achieving a net-zero future. Actions such as enhancing energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, fuel switching, and other technology should be shared and discussed more widely among ANSPs, and this document currently provides an excellent foundation."

Francine Carron Corporate Social Responsibility Program Manager, skeyes

skeyes, the Belgian ANSP, has used 100% green electricity since 2015, and has approved the installation of a solar farm at its main site adjacent to Brussels airport. The estimates in this Think Paper are a first attempt to quantify the total potential emissions saving that greening Europe’s ATM ground infrastructure could achieve over the course of the next decade, and are designed to stimulate decision-making in the years ahead. Improving the energy efficiency of all ground infrastructure over the next 10 years will be both a challenge, and a window of opportunity if successfully linked to investment cycles.

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