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Investing in sustainability


Carlos Kaduoka, SITA’s head of business strategy for airports, considers how new technology will play a key role in helping airports respond to the demands for a greener industry.

The travel recovery is well underway. As the summer travel season approaches, airlines and airports have been caught off guard by the speed of recovery. The aviation industry is struggling to deal with the spike in passenger volumes due to staff shortages, leading to disruption, including flight delays and cancellations.

While the industry battles to manage this unexpected boom, another challenge is looming on the horizon.

As air travel rebounds, emissions are inevitably rising and set to increase as demand for travel is anticipated to grow beyond pre-pandemic levels. Having, in 2021, committed to an ambitious carbon net-zero goal by 2050, airports need to address how they make their existing and future operations sustainable. The faster the growth, the bigger the challenge.

At the same time, passengers are also demanding more sustainable IT approaches and choices for travel.

The good news is that the industry has already taken steps to reduce its emissions. According to the findings of Air Transport IT Insights, SITA’s global benchmarking survey of IT trends in air transport, airports are prioritising technology investments to help them operate in an environmentally responsible way, now and in the future.

Environmental considerations in IT management and governance

SITA’s report states that by the end of 2024, 62% of airports will have an overall IT management policy or framework in place that includes  environmental impacts. It also reveals that airports will concentrate on getting the most value from IT equipment through IT lifecycle management controls and including environmental considerations in the selection criteria for IT purchases.

The shift from paper to digital

The study also reveals that behavioural policies or controls to discourage printing and reduce paper consumption to favour environmentally responsible print materials will be commonplace in airports by 2024. This appears to be consistent with the industry shift to greater digitalisation for more efficient operations and faster, automated journeys.

Sustainable design

Major airports worldwide are adopting digital and mobile technology – self-service, biometrics, and touchless solutions – to process passengers quickly and efficiently, replacing paper-based processes.

More eco-friendly passenger processing hardware, kiosks like SITA’s new TS6 Kiosk, are likely to become more prevalent with the trend of environmental impacts influencing IT decision-making and management.   

Frankfurt Airport and Václav Havel Airport in Prague are two airports that have upgraded their passenger processing with the award-winning SITA Smart Path TS6 Kiosk, which incorporates sustainable design features including modularity, longevity, durability, and energy efficiency. 

Energy efficiencies using IT

Unsurprisingly, energy efficiency is a key area being addressed by airports today because they consume significant amounts of energy to operate their buildings and services. It includes energy consumption in the heating, lighting, and cooling of a terminal and for powering IT systems that support the day-to-day operations of an airport, including passenger services, ground vehicles, and airside services.

This focus on energy efficiency is consistent with SITA’s report findings that 73% of airports will have policies or physical systems that promote energy savings in place by 2024.

The report confirms that many airports have already implemented greener building infrastructure – an area also most favoured by passengers according to SITA’s 2020 passenger-focused report: ‘Passenger IT Insights’. Greener infrastructure covers areas like natural lighting, green spaces, the use of renewable energy, as well as smarter building controls.

As part of this trend for energy-efficient infrastructure, there is a continued focus by airports on their physical data centres. Around 63% of airports will have shifted their physical data centres to energy-efficient cloud-based facilities by the end of 2024, according to SITA’s 2021 Air Transport Insights.

The onsite power consumption and ongoing maintenance of dedicated onsite data centres appear unsustainable for many airports favouring cloud-based data centres.

Another example of how IT is helping airports to drive greater efficiencies in energy use is at the airside. ACI’s Aircraft Ground Energy System Simulator (AGES-S) is a simulation tool that helps airports calculate the reduction of fuel consumption by replacing the use of aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) with more efficient aircraft ground energy systems (AGES). AGES provide both pre-flight electricity and pre-conditioned air for aircraft on the ground.

New IT to proactively cut emissions

Looking forward, a key area of focus will be how airports can make their operations more efficient – efficiencies that can help save the aviation industry 10% in carbon emissions, according to ATAG’s Waypoint 2050 report.

SITA’s IT Insights reveals that while airports are clearly focusing on the environmental impacts of the technology they buy and use, many plan to implement business and artificial intelligence solutions to enhance their overall operations. Greater intelligence will drive greater efficiencies supporting airports’ decarbonisation efforts.

These innovative technologies utilise data analytics – combining big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies – to reduce fuel use, CO2 emissions, and pollution. New IT to support sustainability is a highly valued area among passengers, as reflected in SITA’s 2020 passenger-focused research.

Landing and take-off cycles represent the largest source of local emissions at an airport. Categorised as ‘Scope 3’ greenhouse gas emissions because they are not under the direct control of an airport, they are the most challenging scope of emissions to measure, report, and address.

This reinforces the importance of collaborative-decision making among airport stakeholders, including airlines, ground handlers, and many others. The introduction of the Airport CDM (A-CDM) solution to some airports in Europe has demonstrated environmental and operational benefits, including a reduction in fuel burn and greenhouse gas emissions.

New emission calculation technologies, like SITA Emissions Manager, are also being trialled by airports today to help improve their understanding of the source and extent of emissions, in order to implement a more effective mitigation plan.

Overall IT Trends in 2022 and beyond

We see a growing trend among airports for business intelligence solutions that give greater visibility across operations to not only deliver environmental gains, but also to improve collaboration among stakeholders, bring cost savings and give greater agility to respond to changing conditions. Today, leaner and more nimble operations are critical for airports, given the increasing passenger volumes and the industry’s revenue losses following the pandemic.

Automation will continue to be a priority for airports to support a seamless and sustainable passenger experience. The convenience and reduced processing times associated with mobile, automated, and self-service passenger processing technologies supported by more eco-friendly hardware will be well received by passengers. 

The trend for automation and business intelligence solutions applies to regional and domestic airports in the same way they do for international hubs. When travelling regionally or domestically, passengers will want the same digital experience they get in an international airport. This is where unified digital travel systems will gain increasing importance, particularly with the rise of intermodal travel and leveraging blockchain technology to securely share passengers’ digital identities across the various travel stakeholders to simplify the passenger journey across land, sea, and air.

Becoming carbon net-zero by 2050 will be no easy feat for airports; after all, the solutions to support the net-zero journey are not all readily available or affordable today.

However, airports are underway with infrastructure and operational efficiencies using technology, underpinned by more robust controls and governance, to deliver a more seamless and sustainable travel experience.

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