The aviation industry has a disproportionately large impact on the climate system given its size: it accounts for four to nine percent of the carbon emissions responsible for climate change. The industry grew tenfold in the past 40 years, and according to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Vision 2050, in the next 40 years the number of passengers flying is expected to rise from 2.4 million to 16 million. Clearly, action is urgently needed to mitigate the impact of climate change. Some promising initiatives are showcased below.

Lowering CO2

  • Biofuels. According to IATA, sustainable biofuels for aviation could reduce CO2 emissions 80 percent on a full carbon lifecycle basis. The focus is on biofuels sourced from second or new generation biomass, particularly algae. These fuels can be produced sustainably to minimize impacts on food crops and fresh water usage.
  • Technology has the best prospect for reducing aviation emissions. The industry is making great advances in this area, including revolutionary plane designs, new composite lightweight materials, and radical new engine advances. The most recent example is Airbus’ new A380 jetliner. The most environmentally-friendly commercial jetliner in operation today, it has 20 percent less fuel consumption per seat, the result of a new wing design and composite materials.
  • Efficiency. Southwest Airlines is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Blue Skyways Collaborative Partner and operates one of the most efficient fleets in the world. Over 90 percent of its fleet is equipped with winglets, and Southwest is in the process of retrofitting its fleet with advanced avionics to support Required Navigational Performance, the cornerstone of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Traffic Control System. Southwest also recently unveiled the “Green Plane,” a test environment for the latest environmentally-friendly cabin materials. The focus is on materials that contain a high percentage of recycled content and lighter-weight products. This translates into reduced fuel consumption and increased fuel efficiency.

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What future for air transport?
Source: Airbus, IATA, Southwest

Can airports help fight climate change?

Findings from a 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture study indicate that airports possess unrealized potential for the production of alternative energy. Airports are often surrounded by vast, empty areas of land where limits to wildlife preservation are not only acceptable but also necessary as wildlife pose risks to aircraft. There are over 44,000 airports in the world, many of them with substantial land available.

Several airports have already implemented renewable energy technologies to offset their own energy demand. At Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California, for example, 12,000 solar panels produce 4.2 megawatts of power, or 60 percent of the annual electricity consumption of the airport. And in Europe, Gatwick International Airport just became the first airport in the U.K. to install a solar array. The 50 kilowatt photovaltaic system installed just 150 meters from the main runway includes 212 panels that are expected to save 25 tonnes of CO2 a year with the electricity generated being used at the airport.

Source: “Airports offer unrealized potential for alternative energy production,” Environmental Management (2012);

Delhi airport LEEDs


Terminal 3 at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, which opened in July 2010, is the first airport terminal to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design New Construction (LEED NC) gold rating.

A cutting edge construction, the terminal is the eighth largest passenger terminal and 24th largest building in the world. It has
the capacity to handle 34 million passengers annually.

The terminal consolidates under one roof the services previously offered at two different terminals. This will enable Delhi to complete as an international hub.

Features that allowed Terminal 3 to win the certification include:

  • Energy efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions through a design that allows natural light to illuminate the center of the building, and decentralized cooling units.
  • Electric vehicles for moving travelers among terminals, and 215 electric charging stations installed in the parking facilities.
  • A water management and treatment program featuring more than 300 rainwater harvesting pits, which recharge Delhi’s aquifer.
  • Use of materials with high percentages of recycled content.

Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) is a consortium of the GMR Group, Fraport AG and Malaysia Airports, India Development Fund, and the Airports Authority of India. HOK and Mott MacDonald designed the project, which included renovating and extending the existing international and domestic terminals.

The project has won several awards, including the Airport Service Quality Award from Airports Council International, Best International Project from the British Construction Industry, and Most Noteworthy New Terminal Design from Passenger Terminal World.

Source and photo: HOK, Mott MacDonald