Environmental charges

Some airports levy environmental charges, either separate or integrated into other ones (e.g. landing charges), in order to incentivise the use of quieter or lower-emission aircraft by airlines or fund local mitigation measures (Figure 5.3).

A recent evaluation of Directive 2009/12/EC on Airport Charges [71], together with an analysis of publicly available information, revealed that approximately 60% of the busiest EU28+EFTA airports have implemented environmental charges. In line with ICAO guidance, these charges are focused on local noise and/or air quality (NOX) impacts and not global climate change impacts (CO2), and are dependent on numerous factors including the aircraft and engine type, the certified noise and emission levels and time of the day. The overall proportion of environmental charges relative to total airport charges is increasing, but remains small as of 2016 (approximately 4% for long haul and 1% for short haul flights). As airport charges represent 15-20% of low-cost carrier costs and 4-8% of network carrier costs, the evaluation report concluded that it is questionable whether those charging schemes influence the fleet operating at the airports.

Although there are significant differences in the structure of the environmental charging systems across Europe, the evaluation of the Airport Charges Directive concluded that it had provided a common framework for a transparent consultation on the charging setting process, remedies, non-discrimination and the establishment of independent supervisory authorities.

Environmental impact mitigation measures

Airports have been active in improving their environmental performance in various areas. This section provides an overview of some of these actions based on the 51 airport responses to the ACI EUROPE survey in 2018, which represent 60% of total EU28+EFTA passenger numbers.

Vehicle fleet

86% of the respondents reported that their vehicle fleet included electric vehicles, 47% have hybrid models and 35% have vehicles that run on sustainable alternative fuel. In addition, 18% of airports indicated that they provide incentives for taxis to also use these types of ‘green’ vehicles.


61% of survey respondents indicated that renewable energy is produced on site (Figure 5.4) while 40% have established an energy management system certified according to the ISO 50001 standard. 89% of these airports indicated that the renewable energy produced on site covers 1-20% of their energy needs, 3% stated the energy covers 21-40% of their needs, 5% stated the energy covers 41-60% of their needs and 3% stated the energy covers more than 61% of their needs.
In addition, 65% of airports purchase electricity from renewable sources.

Airport infrastructure

The provision of Fixed Electrical Ground Power (FEGP) and Pre-Conditioned Air (PCA) to aircraft at the airport gate reduces emissions by allowing the pilot to obtain electricity direct from the local grid and use the airport’s air conditioning system to control the temperature on board. The aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit, which uses normal jet fuel, can then be kept switched off until just before the aircraft is ready to depart when it is needed to start the main engines. 82% of respondents provide FEGP to aircraft on-stand and 58% of respondents provided PCA.

Airport surface access

A large part of the indirect emissions at airports originate from surface access transport (e.g. the road access to the airport). The development of improved public transport systems to reduce the use of individual vehicles, and improve local air quality, is one of the key challenges for airports and the local authorities. While 98% of airports indicated that public transport was available, a majority of airports also reported that less than 20% of their employees actually use it to travel to work. In a separate analysis, on average, 36% of passengers travelled to airports by public transport in 2018, compared to 43% in 201616.

Environmental Management Systems

82% of surveyed airports, representing 53% of total EU28+EFTA passengers, were certified against an international standard to effectively monitor and manage their environmental performance (e.g. EU EMAS, ISO 14001) or energy management (ISO 50001).

16 2016 and 2019 data was based on airport reports representing 56% and 64% of European traffic respectively

Stakeholder actions

Airport Carbon Accreditation Programme

The Airport Carbon Accreditation programme [72] was launched by the Airports Council International Europe in 2009 and has now expanded to include 237 airports worldwide. It is a voluntary industry led initiative, that provides a common framework for carbon management with the primary objective to encourage and enable airports to implement best practices. It is run by an independent Programme Administrator who manages the application and approval process, and is overseen by an independent Advisory Board that reviews the progress and relevance of the programme. All data submitted by airport companies via Airport Carbon Accreditation are externally and independently verified.

The programme is structured around four levels of certification (Level 1: Mapping, Level 2: Reduction, Level 3: Optimisation and Level 3+: Neutrality) with increasing scope and obligations for carbon emissions management (Scope 1: Direct airport emissions, Scope 2: Indirect emissions under airport control from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam and Scope 3: emissions by others operating at the airport such as aircraft, surface access, staff travel). As of the latest 2017-2018 reporting period, there are 133 European airports17 participating in the programme.

Figure 5.5 

These airports correspond to 1.343 billion passengers (65% of passengers in Europe) in 2017-2018, compared to 1.105 billion passengers (64% of passengers in Europe) in the 2014-2015 period. Total direct emissions which were under the full control of the airport were reported as 1.985 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017-2018, down from 2.089 million tonnes of CO2 in the 2014-2015 period. The carbon emission per passenger travelling through European airports at all levels of Airport Carbon Accreditation has stabilised over the last 3 years at about 1.5 kg CO2/passenger (Figure 5.6).

In Scope 1 and 2 emissions, a total reduction18 of 0.169 million tonnes of CO2 (Figure 5.7) for all accredited airports at Level 2 and above was also reported in 2017-2018. This represents about 7.9% of the average annual emissions during the 2014-2017 period. The Scope 3 emissions increased by 1.159 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017-2018, compared to a reduction of 0.551 million tonnes in the 2014-2015 period.

Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE)

ACI EUROPE represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries, which accounts for over 90% of commercial air traffic in the region. It works to promote professional excellence and best practice amongst its members, including in the area of environmental protection.

Measures to reduce emissions from airport-related activities include improving the energy efficiency of infrastructure, facilitating the transition to electric vehicles, both airside and landside, and the adoption of SAFs by airlines, to name a few. A growing number of airports generate renewable energy on-site, such as Athens International (solar), Reus (geothermal) and La Palma (wind). It is increasingly recognised that collaboration between all partners operating at the airport is essential to reduce emissions, as shown by Budapest Airport through its Greenairport programme. 35 European airports have achieved carbon neutral status for their operations, and ACI EUROPE has set the target of reaching 100 carbon neutral airports by 2030. Ronneby Airport in Sweden is the first European airport to completely eliminate carbon emissions, without offsetting, from activities under its direct control through significant investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

Innovation also drives activities of European airports in the environmental sphere. For example, London Gatwick Airport became the first airport worldwide to construct a plant onsite that converts cabin waste into energy, while Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is applying circular economy principles to the refurbishment of its car parks and lighting systems. Finally, the Norwegian airport operator Avinor has set the objective of enabling all Norwegian short-haul flights to become electric by 2040.

17 The figures presented on this page contain six non-EU28+EFTA airports (Istanbul Ataturk, Antalya, Ankara, Izmir, Pristina and Tirana) which are included in the European values provided in the Annual Reports.

18 Emissions reductions have to be demonstrated against the average historical emissions of the three years before year 0. As year 0 changes every year upon an airport’s renewal/upgrade, the three years selected for the average calculation do so as well. Consequently, airports have to show emissions reductions against a three-year rolling average.