Airport sustainability is founded on environmental stewardship, social responsibility, operational efficiency and economic growth.
Sustainable practices can include methods that seek to cut water consumption, increase the use of renewable and alternative energy, and boost recycling, according to Ismael Cremer, an assistant professor at Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Aeronautics who teaches a course on aviation sustainability.
Let’s take a look at some airport sustainability efforts.
How airports manage their stormwater is important to the overall safety of the airport and its impact on the local community. Removing water from runways and roadways is a safety precaution for airplanes. Removing standing water is also necessary to keep from attracting birds and other wildlife that can interfere with aircraft takeoffs and landings.
The federal Clean Water Act requires airports to manage runoff from roadways and runways, parking areas and buildings. Regulators are increasingly promoting the implementation of ecofriendly methods for managing stormwater over the use of traditional infrastructure-based approaches, also known as "gray infrastructure."
Green methods can include: bioretention, which involves the use of soils and plant life to remove pollutants from stormwater; rain gardens and green roofs; porous paving; bioswales, which redirect runoff while filtering stormwater; and infiltration basins, or shallow artificial ponds.
In addition to reducing flooding and improving water quality, ecofriendly methods can reduce capital costs associated with gray infrastructure and lower operational costs related to treating stormwater to remove pollutants.
Lowering carbon emissions in the aviation industry is becoming a priority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. Aircraft account for an estimated 11% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the U.S. transportation sector, and 3% of the total GHG emissions. U.S. planes account for nearly one-third of all aircraft emissions globally.
In addition to the EPA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working to reduce aircraft emissions through its Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program.
Methods for reducing carbon emissions in the aviation industry can include alternative power sources for aircraft, such as renewable jet fuel and solar power, and green airport facilities that feature enhanced insulation, recycling and other energy-saving initiatives.
Another goal of the CLEEN program is to reduce noise pollution caused by aircraft during the various phases of flight operations, from taxiing to takeoff and landing.
In 2015, FAA officials announced the agency would survey selected U.S. airports and update the data it uses to measure aircraft noise exposure and its effects on airport-adjacent communities. The findings will help determine whether the FAA’s current noise metrics require adjustment, according to the National Business Aviation Association.
Airports, airlines and aviation regulators are exploring a variety of noise-abatement measures, including the FAA’s NextGen initiative. That program features the use of Global Positioning System satellites to create flight patterns that allow aircraft to reach their cruising altitude sooner and to use less engine power during descent.
Also, noise-reduction strategies include the development of quieter aircraft, soundproofing technology, and land use planning that keeps home and businesses farther from runways, the Federal Aviation Administration notes.
Integrating Airport Sustainability
The aviation industry is exploring many methods for going green. As the FAA notes, sustainability efforts can limit environmental impacts while fostering economic growth, and supporting broader community and regional goals.
Additional sustainable practices include:
- Integrating natural elements into facilities
- Installing solar panels
- Reducing potable water use
- Requiring a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) or similar environmental commitment for construction projects
Incorporating sustainability practices into the culture and day-to-day business of an airport can be done as part of a comprehensive program that involves employees, customers, tenants and other stakeholders.