Climate change is impacting every business and the aviation sector is no exception. So achieving the net zero goal has become the top priority for all responsible economic agents.
When it comes to aviation and sustainability, there are two important things that come into play. The first is the issue of airlines moving to less CO2 emitting aviation fuel which is still a work in progress and may take a long time to fructify.
A more immediate and achievable goal is making airports sustainable by switching to green technologies and renewable energy sources to run the operations on a 24x7 basis. The time factor is important since airports have to cater to flights operating to and from different time zones. So, keeping them running round the clock without glitches is central to the success of all airports.
To make an airport sustainable, the management has to address the following issues. The first is to achieve the net zero emission goal. For this, airports have to move to renewable energy sources like solar and switch over to transformative technologies that are energy efficient. They should also double down on investments in industrial scale energy storage facilities with provisions for adequate back-ups in case of emergencies and contingencies. They should also take socially responsible measures such as greening the nearby communities as well.
CIAL (Cochin International Airport Ltd) model of energy management can be emulated by other airports.
CIAL is the world’s first airport fully powered by green energy. The airport has seven solar power plants in its premises besides having a floating solar power unit at the CIAL Golf Course. The airport commissioned a hydro-electric plant in northern Kerala with an installed capacity of 4.5 MW.
It also owns and operates a 12 MWp terrain based solar power plant in north Kerala. The airport operates a first of its kind 2.25 lakh sq ft solar energy powered carport with an installed capacity of 5.1 MWp.
The airport has so far commissioned green energy capacity of 50 MWp, a milestone that no other airports can boast of. All together the airport generates an astounding 73 million units of green energy per annum.
The 73 million units of green energy a year translates into cutting 28,000 MT of carbon footprint every year, which is indeed a rare feat and may be a first in the industry. What’s more, it is equivalent to the fresh air that we get by planting a whopping 46 lakh trees. It also means halting the burning of 11.9 million litres of fossil fuel a year.
Another key pillar for building a sustainable airport is the need to design and build the airport buildings, terminals and other physical infrastructure keeping sustainability in mind. For this, airports need to switch to a 360-degree lifecycle model in the design, construction and operation of new and existing physical infrastructure. Such infrastructure should be in sync with the principles of circular economy by reusing or recycling all resources and articles leading to zero waste goal. Here again CIAL has set an example.
The third issue to be addressed is to align the future growth of airports with sustainable goals such as preserving nature and bio-diversity.
For this, airports need to commit to ‘green managed growth’ by setting limits to environmental impacts while continuing to grow in size and business.
Such an approach may need the consent of other stake-holders and neighbouring community since it involves factors such as air and noise pollution.
As a responsible corporate citizen CIAL ticks all the boxes when it comes to building a sustainable airport. And we will continue to grow in a sustainable fashion going forward. When it comes to sustainable airports, CIAL is second to none.
The writer is Managing Director, Cochin International Airport (CIAL)