Quick environmental steps regional and general aviation airports can take today

By Zoe Beynon-MacKinnon

Record temperatures in Europe and forest fires near Lytton again this year remind us of the continuing risks of climate change. As the public grows increasingly sensitive to all manner of industrial pollution, airports find themselves called upon to do more to minimize environmental impacts. At the same time, management has never been under such acute pressure to cut costs. Fortunately, airport management can take action on several fronts to reduce expenses, create community goodwill, and contribute to climate resilience.

Here are four cost-effective strategies airport authorities can undertake to both reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and site-based pollution:

1. Solar and LED Lights

Until recently, high-quality airfield lighting required considerable energy, but by using solar-powered and low-input LED lights, airports can now significantly reduce energy demands and associated expenditures. While both solar and LED lighting require an upfront installation budget, the long-term (and in some instances short-term) benefits are significant. In the case of outdoor solar lights, the need for wiring below the runway is eliminated, thereby reducing costs and maintenance requirements. Indoor LEDs require substantially less energy, reduce costs through energy saved, and last significantly longer than traditional lightbulbs, minimizing the cost of replacement and maintenance. The federal and provincial governments offer subsidies for new lights through programs such as Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) and BC Air Access Program (BCAAP) in BC.

2. Carbon Credits

Just as passengers and airlines can purchase carbon credits to counteract their flight emissions, airports can purchase carbon credits that support land conservation to offset carbon emissions. A recent example of this is YVR achieving carbon neutral status via work with the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Darkwoods project. Even small GA (general aviation) airports can participate in these programs.

3. Airport Approaches

Precision air navigation approaches reduce aircraft fuel burn by more accurately guiding flights to the aircraft decision point and avoiding unnecessary flight time. Although NAVCAN is responsible for approving and overseeing these approaches, many airports have invested in improved approach systems which NAVCAN has then approved. This autonomous tactic can reduce the time required for new approach development by years. In many cases airports can benefit from approaches that NAVCAN on its own would not have funded.

4. Deicing Management

Deicing chemicals including ethylene glycol are an integral part of Canadian aviation—they allow for safe flight operations during our long winters. However, poor deicing oversight and irregular cleaning of settling ponds and infrastructure can lead to excess runoff that pollutes local waterways and soil. There are several actions airports can take to both reduce the amount of glycol used and better manage its application. Primarily, airports can create two-step procedures that use one or more of the following in addition to glycol to act as a buffer to reduce runoff: hot water, forced air, or infrared heating systems. In addition, the impacts of glycol can be significantly reduced by determining comprehensive deicing needs per plane type, using computerized gantry application systems, and maintaining collection and waste management systems.

There are several ways airports can invest today to reduce harmful environmental impacts such as GHG emissions and the pollution of air, land, and water. While the short-term and long-term costs of each of these actions will vary by location, there are often funding opportunities available for airports to invest in green infrastructure. The BC Aviation Council (BCAC) has a useful sustainability section on its website with insights into sustainability and aviation and fuels trends.

Zoe Beynon-MacKinnon is an Associate with OEI. She contributes research and analytical services to the firm’s airport, port, and First Nations engagements in Canada and around the world.