Eco-airports and their role in environmental protection

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report,  processed in 2018, starting from the pre-industrial periods the global average temperature has increased to 1°C  in the result of the emissions and continues to increase ranging from 0.8°C to 1.2°C [1]. Climate change around the world is basically due to greenhouse gas emissions of Carbon dioxide, Methane, and Nitrogen oxide, which are dominated by Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The impact of aviation and airports on global warming

The Airport emissions have their share in CO2 emissions. Airports have a negative impact on the environment, and which is why the role of eco-airports is becoming more important day by day, and the number of airports and eco-airports, following Ecological politics, is gradually growing. 

Most of the world’s airports are built for cooler weather conditions, but their activities and global warming disrupt those specific conditions. They are mainly built on beaches and riverbanks not to disturb people and avoid natural obstacles in mountainous areas, so the level rise of the World Ocean can also put them at risk as a result of global warming. The rest of the airports have short runways due to the limited space (large planes can’t land on the short runways in the case of certain high temperatures), meanwhile,  in the past, the designers did not even imagine and predict such an intense increase of temperature, which would have an impact on airports and airplanes often causing the area to expand. The high temperature also affects the density of air, by which it reduces leading to the lift force reduction, forcing airlines to shorten either the acceptable weight during flights or move flights to cooler hours.

Back in the early 1970s, airports started to implement environmental management programs connected to the different aspects of the airport’s activities. They included air quality monitoring, water management, noise reduction and biodiversity management. Various initiatives are currently being taken at the airport to reduce CO2 emissions, in the context of climate change. Such programs reduce the number of emissions to some extent and ensure the cleanliness of the environment.

In general, air traffic forms only 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions (915 million tonnes). The share of airports in air transport emissions is 5% (915,000,000,000*5%=33,300,000 tonnes).

According to annual statistics of ICAO, the number of people using air transport in 2018 rose to 4.3 billion, meanwhile, the number of flights reached 37.8 million [2]. So, we can say, that every second person on earth sits on a plane at least once a year. 

According to Airbus [3] forecasts passengers’ number is expected to double in the near future, which means, if necessary measures are not taken, the share of greenhouse gas emissions at airports may also increase. To this end, many airports and airlines set up departments dealing with environmental problems and appropriate policies. Advanced air junctions, thinking of creating a sustainable environment, tend to decrease the number of harmful emissions by switching to renewable energy sources.

Eco-Airports and the main principles of their operation with an example of Zurich airport

Eco airports, through their function and policy, aim to minimize the harm of nature, inflicted by them. They take measures to protect the airport and create a healthy environment. Among the best airports in the world are:

  • Changi International Airport,  Singapore,
  •  Munich International Airport, Germany,
  •  Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
  • Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado,
  • Zurich airport, Switzerland.

Let’s consider the example of Zurich airport. The latter is one of the best eco-airports in the world, where great attention is paid to the aircraft noise, air quality, climate protection, energy consumption and the preservation of the natural environment. The Airport highlights the open dialogue establishment. When it comes to environmental protection, the inhabitants, authorities, associations, environmentalists concerned about environmental protection and other stakeholders become the concerned parties.

The Policy pursued by the Airport can be presented with the following points;

Energy saving  and lowest possible consumption;, The Airport approved  an energy strategy plan in 2013, by which it is aiming to ensure  a secure, economical and environmentally sound energy supply by 2030. That’s why it is planned to implement more reconstruction and replacement projects in the next few years. Alternative energy sources are an important basis for achieving the goals of the 2030 Energy Strategy [4]

Landscaping; the airport actively takes part in the landscaping works and year by year expands the surface of landscaped areas. More than half of the Airport is not built up and is not directly used for aviation. Those green areas, by the way, include nature reserves and diverse meadows, which are supervised by the local committee of environmental protection in cooperation with the airport. Environmental supplies have also been created in other near areas to compensate for the damage done to the environment.

Waste collection; the Airport collects a large number of different types of wastes, paper, cardboard, wood, metal and other materials, as well as hazardous wastes and large amounts of garbage. The airport-wide waste management concept was established in 1992 and reviewed in 2011. The concept is based on the principles of prevention and reuse, according to which the wastes must be recycled to become ecologically clean and environmentally friendly. The garbage and the recyclable resources are directly moved by the trucks from the reservoir to the third-party recycling companies. Recycling and systematic waste segregation are important approaches. Recycling generates thermal energy, which can be used in territorial heating systems to generate electricity.

Water preservation; here water preservation is also paid attention too. The General Drainage Plan (GEP) has been in operation since 1999. It is the basis of all water preservation projects. Due to the consistent management of freshwater, water consumption by every passenger has decreased significantly at the Airport in the last few years. Rainwater is also being harvested and used. 

Soundproofing; Zurich airport also implements a soundproofing program. This program involves an installation of soundproofing windows, which will protect residents around the airport area from excessive aircraft noise (each aircraft meets one of the five noise standards, according to which feesare charged). 

All CO2 emissions in Zurich airport have been calculated in detail since 1991 under the GHG protocol. According to the GHG Protocol (Greenhouse Gas), the sources of  CO2 emissions are distributed among different spheres of influence known as “scopes“, which are divided into 3 groups; 

  • The first group (Scope 1) are direct emissions, which occur from managed and controlled sources. In Zurich, it includes the sources belonging to the Airport and controlled by it. They mainly include heating systems, own independent electricity production and the airport vehicle fleet.
  • The second group (Scope 2) are indirect emissions, which occur from the generation of purchased energy. In Zurich, it is off-site electricity generation, i.e. electricity that is bought in. 
  • The third group (Scope 3) are all other indirect emissions, which are not included in Scope 2. In Zurich, it covers all other airport-related sources, including all ground handling systems, feeder traffic and the actual aircraft [5].

Zurich airport is reducing CO2 emissions by upgrading the existing infrastructure. Besides, the company constantly optimizes the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in the buildings to reduce energy consumption. When constructing any new building, it is planned to be energy efficient, meeting the latest standards. The Airport is also trying to replace diesel-petrol cars with electronic ones. 

If we consider the measures taken since 1991, we can notice, that through them Zurich airport was able to reduce the 50% of emissions (Scope 1 and 2). In Scope 1 and 2 Zurich Airport tends to ensure zero emissions by 2050.  

The effectiveness of the Zurich airport policy

As an eco-airport, for realizing the effectiveness of Zurich airport policy, let’s consider a comparison with another eco-airport. Let’s take the example of Pristina airport. The comparison is based on showing the differences between large and small airports and presenting their emissions, taking into account that in both all CO2 emissions are calculated according to GHG protocol and are distributed among different spheres of influence. 

Table 1։ Number of operated flights and passengers in 2018 [6]

Zurich airport Pristina airport
The number of passengers 31,113,488 2,165,749
The number of flights 278,458 8,388

Table 2։ Emissions in 2018 [7]

Zurich Airport Pristina Airport
Scope 1 25,143 t 1,983 t
Scope 2 1,657 t 9,247 t
Scope 3 4,113,904 t 31,370 t
Total: Scope 1+ Scope 2 26,800 t 11,230 t

Scope 1 and 2 are connected with the activities of the Airport, whereas Scope 3 mainly includes the aircraft, that is why there’s such a big quantity of  CO2 emissions in Scope 3. We can say that Scope 1 and 2 are chiefly affected by the number of passengers, and Scope 3-by the number of flights. Taking into account this circumstance, Scope 1 and 2 have been taken as a basis for calculation. 

In Zurich airport, the number of passengers is 14.36 times higher (calculation coefficient) than at Pristina airport. As the emissions of Scope 1+2 is 11.230t at Pristina airport, so, in other equal conditions, in Zurich airport they must be 11230*14.36=161.263t, but they altogether are 26,800t. Therefore, we can say, that Zurich airport emissions, in other equal conditions having 278․458/8․388=33 times more flights and 14․36 times more passengers, are 6 (161,263/26800) times less due to its policy. 

In conclusion, we can say, the comparison between these airports reflects the effectiveness of eco-policies through the application of GHG protocol, and Zurich airport, using more expanded eco steps, can overcome the problems of CO2 emissions.  

Opportunities for the introduction of  eco technologies in Armenia

The introduction of eco programs and the legislative regulations of those programs, the development of their optimal versions require quite a long work, which chiefly has rather been overcome by the airlines and airports of the leading countries. 

In Armenia also a number of measures can be taken to ensure the sustainability of the environment such as the expansion of green areas, by planting trees in the vicinity of the airport ( and not only), the collection and recycling of a large number of different wastes by the airport, the realization of soundproofing programs, the application of alternative energy consumption mechanism, etc. 

“Armenia” aircompany in Armenia, is in its infancy and tries to gradually introduce ecological programs (for example it has been pursuing a policy of reducing carbon emissions since December 1, 2019)[8], which will allow to reduce the emissions partly in Armenia and make the airport’s area ecologically cleaner and appropriate to international standards. As there is already an experience in the implementation of environmental policy, this allows Armenia to follow the international practice and legislative regulations.

As an example, we can consider the carbon compensation initiative of Ryanair policy, when Ryanair passengers voluntarily donate £1 (£2 since April 1, 2020) [9] as compensation for carbon emissions. The donations raised through this initiative are entirely aimed at ensuring environmental sustainability.

We can also consider the possibility of airports collecting and recycling a large number of different types of waste (with the collection of paper, cardboard, wood, metal, or other materials, one can apply to the relevant organizations, as well as take steps for further recycling of garbage and energy transformation). 

Some steps have already been taken to implement soundproofing programs. The long-term effects of aviation noise have a negative impact on human health (sleep disorder, frustration, cognitive dysfunction, heart diseases), and it is proved that a certain level of aviation noise has a greater impact on people than the noise of other transport sources. Since 2006, Zvartnots international airport, taking into account the circumstance of endangering the population, informed them of the need to relocate, and about 165 families were relocated. The project was completed in 2016[10]. Now, if necessary, we can expand this program and, by the example of Zurich airport, use the installation of soundproofing windows, which is also an alternative option. 

The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 epidemic had a positive impact on the Earth. As a result, the restrictions on the aviation sector and the reduction of the numbers of flights led to a sharp decline in airports and aircrafts emissions.  However, we must take into account the fact, that one day the epidemic situation will end, and the activities of every sphere, including airports, will return to their previous agenda. Thus, it is highly desirable to take into account the positive results of these restrictions and try to develop  appropriate solutions to protect the environment and to ensure sustainability.




  3. Statistic Report 2018, Zurich airport

Author: Marianna Manvelyan © All rights reserved.

Translator: Aida Saribekyan