The decarbonisation of the industry is its highest priority but achieving net zero will come at a net extra cost of over €820 billion ($900m) for European aviation, a cost no sector can bear on its own, said Javier Marin, President of ACI Europe, in a plea for fiscal support. He told delegates at the airport body’s annual congress in Barcelona the EU’s Fit for 55 package will increase airfares and reduce demand, possibly by up to 20%, and with intra-European routes being the most impacted, regional airports and the communities would be most at risk of losing out on air connectivity. He called for additional policy and financial support to boost production of sustainable aviation fuels in Europe and access to green energy to support the deployment of hydrogen and electric/hybrid powered aircraft. During the meeting, held in conjunction with ACI World’s annual assembly, an Airports of Tomorrow initiative was launched with the World Economic Forum.
Marin, who is also Managing Director of Spanish airports operator Aena, restated the airport industry’s backing for the EU SAF mandates, which he said would provide the certainty needed to trigger investments in European production capabilities, and the importance of support mechanisms such as the EU Innovation Fund and SAF allowances under the EU ETS.
“We absolutely need to boost the production of SAF in Europe and bridge the gap with conventional fuels,” he said. “This requires concrete and actionable support beyond what is currently foreseen to counterbalance the very effective US approach of multiple tax breaks. This implies that SAF are designated as ‘net zero strategic technology’ under the EU Net Zero Industry Act and benefit from the related regulatory support. This also means European states must urgently work on their national SAF supply strategy together with industry – and provide direct financial support.”
He said deploying and servicing hydrogen-powered and electric/hybrid aircraft would involve reconfiguring energy supply, storage and distribution at airports.
“This will require not just massive investments, but also access to considerable green energy,” he told delegates at the ACI Europe/World Annual General Assembly in Barcelona. “This must be factored in and addressed in transport and energy policies in a coordinated way at European and national level. Delivering net zero aviation will be conditional upon no airport being left behind in the energy transition.”
Marin bemoaned the ability of airlines to “freely charge” passengers airfares “that have increased six times over the consumer inflation rate” while airports were “stuck” with charges that needed regulatory approval long in advance.
The meeting heard the total number of airports individually committed to net zero emissions in Europe had risen to 324 in 38 countries, accounting for 76% of the continent’s passenger traffic. Since last year’s pledge, 48 airports have advanced their target, while 132 airports are now committed to reaching net zero by 2030 or earlier.
The publicly available repository of airport net zero carbon roadmaps, provided by ACI Europe to ensure the transparency and efficacy of airports’ progress to their climate objectives, is expanding. The updated repository now covers 153 airports and ACI Europe’s Net Zero Resolution has a new requirement that commits airports to submit a roadmap within one year. An updated edition of the guidance document on developing an airport net zero roadmap was released during the meeting.
“The Resolution, first launched in 2019, has become a reference point for airports’ commitments and tangible progress in reaching net zero carbon as fast as possible,” commented Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General. “The European airport industry is embracing decarbonisation on an unprecedented scale.”
The Airports of Tomorrow initiative aims to bring public and private stakeholders together to address the energy, infrastructure and financing needs of the industry’s transition to net zero by 2050. Built on four pillars – infrastructure, sustainable aviation fuel, finance and innovation – the project will involve expertise exchange and knowledge sharing, the development of tools and guidance, and the advancement of advocacy.
“The initiative will help airports transform from passenger hubs into energy hubs. It is an exciting time for airports – the energy transformation presents them with an opportunity to further lead and change the future of aviation for the better,” said ACI World Director General Luis Felipe.
Added Lauren Uppink, Head of Climate Strategy at World Economic Forum: “We see airports as strategically located epicentres of activity, where leaders from across the aviation ecosystem can convene and work together to transform the industry. If the right planning and investment decisions are made today, airports can play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future for aviation as well as other sectors.
“The initiative will help airports harness these opportunities, enabling them to fulfil their potential as clean energy hubs and standard-bearers for the net zero economy.”
Photo (Aena): Barcelona-El Prat Airport