Green airport infrastructure

As the aviation sector evolves in order to respond to environmental challenges and new market segments, airport infrastructure also needs to adapt accordingly. The trans-European transport network (TEN-T) regulation promotes the interconnection, multimodal mobility and interoperability of national networks. It is currently being reviewed to ensure that transport infrastructure development is aligned with the European Green Deal and the Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility [19] .

The use of ‘drop-in’ sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in the current global fleet can reduce aviation emissions on a life-cycle basis in the short term. Structured development and documentation of all relevant elements for introducing SAF into the airport fuel supply system is critical to ensure efficient and cost- effective operational logistics. This includes product registration, sampling and probing of SAF, assignment of customs tariff number as well as the delivery and storage at the airport’s fuel farm.

While airports are not usually involved in the fuel supply chain, they can be a key enabler in bringing parties together (e.g. fuel producers, users, suppliers, fuel farm operators) and facilitating the process of SAF uptake by airlines [20] .

Plane of the Swiss International Air Lines

Unlike with the use of drop-in SAF, which can be blended with fossil-based fuel, airports will require time to prepare for novel hydrogen aircraft and their associated fuelling infrastructure [21] , which could take various forms depending on the demand for hydrogen, the airport’s location and distance to the hydrogen source, the space available at the airport and the accessibility to the feedstock for producing hydrogen. Potential supply chains include:

  • manufacturing hydrogen on site;
  • importing hydrogen in its gaseous form and liquefying on site;
  • importing hydrogen in its liquid form; or
  • importing hydrogen in exchangeable tanks.

The Airbus “Hydrogen Hub at Airports’’ concept brings together key airport stakeholders to better understand hydrogen infrastructure needs for future aircraft and to develop a stepped approach to decarbonise all airport-associated infrastructure. Each supply chain will have different infrastructure, operations, safety, efficiency and costs implications. While it is more favourable to transport hydrogen within the airport via a fuel supply system directly to the gate, this might only happen once the economies of scale justify the required investment in infrastructure. The physical properties of hydrogen make it at least as safe as normal Jet A-1 fuel, but with different safety risks and challenges that will require specialised procedures to handle the fuel safely.

Hydrogen Hun at Airports by Airbus

A large supply of green hydrogen46 at an airport could support new hydrogen fuelled aircraft that are aiming to enter service in the 2035 timeframe, while also helping to decarbonise other airport or local community activities (e.g. ground support equipment, buses).

Preparation of the airplane before flight

46The ‘colours’ of hydrogen refer to how it is produced and its carbon footprint. ‘Green’ hydrogen is produced in a climate neutral manner. ‘Blue’ hydrogen is produced from natural gas but the CO2 produced is captured and stored rather than being released to the atmosphere as with ‘Grey’ hydrogen. ‘Brown’ and ‘pink’ hydrogen are produced from coal and nuclear energy respectively.

Towing and launching jet engine a passenger plane

During 2020 Schiphol airport initiated a trial under SESAR on sustainable taxiing using a ‘Taxibot’ [22] . The trial confirmed a 50% fuel / CO2 emissions saving compared to standard taxi procedures, while also helping to reduce NOX emissions and noise. Various operational, infrastructure and technical challenges need to be addressed, but the use of fully electric sustainable taxiing is expected to become the standard procedure by 2030.