Eco-airports and their role in environmental protection

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, processed in 2018, emissions are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C [1]. Climate change worldwide is basically due to greenhouse gas emissions of Carbon dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous oxide, in which Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions predominate.

The impact of aviation and airports on global warming

Airport emissions have their share in CO2 emissions. Airports harm the environment, that’s why the eco-airports’ role is becoming more critical day by day, and the number of eco-airports and the ones following environmental policy is gradually increasing.

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; therefore, the global sea-level rise could endanger them as well. 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 expect to predict such an intense rise in temperature that would affect airports and aircrafts-often causing the expansion of space. The high temperature also affects the air density, which in turn reduces the lifting force, 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 rose to 4.3 billion in 2018; meanwhile, the number of departures 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, the number of passengers is expected to double in the near future, which means that 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 harmful emissions by switching to renewable energy sources.

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

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

  • Singapore Changi Airport, 
  • 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 aircraft noise, air quality, climate protection, energy consumption and the preservation of the natural environment. 

The Airport highlights the significance of open dialogue. When it comes to environmental protection, the inhabitants, authorities, associations, environmentalists concerned about environmental protection, and other concerned parties can act as stakeholders.

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 for a secure, economical, and environmentally sound energy supply by 2030. That’s why it is planned to implement more reconstruction and replacement projects over the next few years. Alternative energy sources are an important basis for achieving the goals of the Energy Strategy 2030 [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 the local committee of environmental protection supervises in cooperation with the airport. Environmental supplies have also been created in other nearby 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 harmless to nature. 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 district heating systems to generate electricity.

Water preservation: here they pay attention to water preservation as well. 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. 

Sound insulation: Zurich airport also implements a sound insulation program. This program involves the 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 fees are charged). 

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

  • The first group (Scope 1) is direct emissions from owned and controlled sources. In Zurich, it includes the sources belonging to the Airport and controlled by it. These mainly include heating systems, own electricity production and the airport vehicle fleet.
  • The second group (Scope 2) is 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) is all other indirect emissions, which are not included in Scope 2. In the case of 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 electric 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

To get an idea of the effectiveness of Zurich’s eco-airport policy, we should consider a comparison with another eco-airport. Let’s look at Pristina airport. The comparison is based on a showcase of the differences between large and small airports and their emissions, given that in both cases, all CO2 emissions are calculated according to the 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
Number of passengers 31,113,488 2,165,749
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 Airport’s activities, whereas Scope 3 mainly relates to the aircraft; that is why there’s such a large quantity of CO2 emissions in Scope 3. We can say that Scope 1 and 2 are mainly affected by the number of passengers, and Scope 3-by the number of flights. Given this factor, only 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. Since Scope 1 + 2 emissions at Pristina Airport are 11.230t, at the Zurich airport, they were supposed to be 11.230 * 14․36 = 161․263 t, all else being equal, but they are only 26,800 t. Therefore, we can say that all else being equal, Zurich airport emissions- having 33 times (278․458/8․388) 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 is able to overcome the problem of CO2 emissions by applying more extensive eco-measures.

Opportunities for the introduction of eco-technologies in Armenia

The implementation of eco programs and their legislative regulation, the development of their optimal versions, require quite a long work, which has been primarily overcome to some extent by the airlines of the leading countries.

In Armenia it’s also possible to implement a number of measures 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), collection and recycling of a large number of different wastes by the airport, realization of soundproofing programs, application of alternative energy consumption mechanism, etc. 

From this perspective “Armenia” airlines is in the beginning stage and tries to gradually introduce ecological programs (or example, from December 1, 2019, pursues a policy of reducing carbon emissions) [8], which will allow to partly reduce the emissions in Armenia and make the airport’s area ecologically cleaner and appropriate to international standards. As there is already experience in implementing environmental policy, this allows Armenia to follow 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 (collecting 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 conversion). 

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 has been proven 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 risk to the population, informed them of the need to relocate, and about 165 families were relocated. The project was completed in 2016[10]. If necessary, we can expand this program and install the soundproofing windows following the example of Zurich Airport as an alternative. 

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 epidemic had a positive impact on the Earth. As a result, restrictions on aviation and reduction of flight numbers led to a sharp decline in airport and aircraft emissions. However, the lockdown caused by a pandemic will end sooner or later, and the activities of every sphere – including those of airports – will get back on track. Thus, it is highly desirable to consider the positive results of these restrictions and try to develop appropriate solutions to protect the environment and ensure sustainability.


  3. Statistic Report 2018, Zurich airport

Author: Marianna Manvelyan © All rights reserved.

Translator: Aida Saribekyan.