As airports adapt to new environmental requirements, technology steps up to help them keep track of their carbon footprint.
Swedavia and Veovo have partnered to introduce environmental emissions incentives for airlines. The airport operator’s flexible airport charges scheme essentially rewards airlines for operating out of Swedavia airports Stockholm Arlanda and Gothenburg Landvetter with more fuel-efficient aircraft. In all, Swedavia operates 10 Swedish airports and is a leader in adopting environmental innovations.
The recently introduced CO2 and NOx Emission Charges follow a Swedish government requirement that airport charges be differentiated for environmental purposes. Airlines are charged more when operating aircraft with higher emissions and less when operating cleaner aircraft. The overall effect on airport revenue for Swedavia is neutral.
Lena Wennberg, chief sustainable development officer at Swedavia, says:” Swedavia wants the travel of the future to be sustainable. For many years, we have actively worked towards a transition to more sustainable travel via our airports. By the end of 2020, Swedavia became completely fossil-free in our airport operations. Fossil-free renewable HVO-diesel is now being fuelled at our airports. Within the Swedish government’s initiative Fossil-free Sweden, which we work within, there are also goals for domestic flights to be completely fossil-free by 2030. For international traffic, all planes taking off from Swedavia’s airports must be fossil-free by 2045″.
Veovo’s Revenue Management software will automatically calculate airlines’ environmental impact at the airport, using industry emission data sets and Swedavia’s innovative environmental charging approach. Swedavia shares the calculations with airlines on their invoices.
” The industry’s drive towards increased sustainability and carbon neutrality requires a toolkit of innovative technologies and approaches, including charging that rewards cleaner aircraft,” said James Williamson, CEO of Veovo. “We are pleased that our aeronautical billing engine with complete charge flexibility will support Swedavia in their initiative.”
Swedavia’s climate transition work was recently honoured by the Airports Council International (ACI), awarding the operator the Eco-Innovation Airport of the Year in 2021.
Airports embrace sustainability
Readers may be interested in the perspective of Jennifer Desharnais, Manager Sustainability at ACI World, who advises the aviation industry not to consider sustainability as a mere “box-ticking exercise.”
“Airports are not new to the practice of operating as sustainably as possible. Several show true leadership, and clearly have a solid sustainability strategy that cascades down and engages all employees. These airports typically create innovative partnerships, collaborate with both in-sector and out-of-sector stakeholders, invest in technologies and training, embrace change, understand the needs of the passengers and communities they serve, and measure their impact on society and the environment. Overall, the airport sector is one that recognises the intricate interdependencies of all three pillars of sustainability, and the associated risks and opportunities.”
But there will be a lot of measures to account for, and technology companies can help make progress toward a carbon-neutral future more transparent.
The future of flexible airport charges
ACI World has suggested that flexible airport charges might also result in the more efficient use of airport infrastructure. ACI World published a policy brief on this topic at the end of last year—Airport Charges: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom—with the assistance of InterVISTAS Consulting Inc. and the support of Oman Airports Management Company, ACI Africa, ACI Latin America-Caribbean, and ACI North America.
The brief suggests:
Policies on airport charges should ensure that they serve the travelling public’s and local communities’ best interests.
Strictly cost-based airport charges do not ensure that infrastructure is used more efficiently to benefit the travelling public.
The primary focus of charges should be on market needs and signals for the efficient use of infrastructure.
The best way forward in the changing competitive landscape is through commercial agreements between airports and airlines.
Light-handed oversight formats are preferable in exceptional situations where economic regulation of charges is deemed necessary.
More flexible policy
The environmental incentive scheme introduced by Swedavia appears to be a better solution to keep Europe’s airports on target than the Fit for 55 proposals put forth by the European Commission.
Fit for 55 refers to achieving a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 levels and encompasses the goal to meet net-zero targets by 2050. The European Commission has proposed mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels (in its ReFuelEU Directive), requiring the supply of electricity to stationary aircraft (in the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, AFIR), and putting an effective price on CO2 emissions and jet fuel (through the EU Emission Trading System, ETS, implementation of CORSIA, and the European Taxation Directive, ETD).
While well-intended and in some ways aligned with aviation’s environmental commitment, ACI Europe has pointed out that Fit for 55 could have an unintended negative impact on European airports, airlines and passengers alike.
The AFIR will require airports to upgrade or change their infrastructure to ensure electricity supply is available at aircraft gates and stands.
The other proposals will increase airlines’ costs— e.g. by introducing a kerosene tax. The extent to which airlines mitigate, absorb or pass through these cost increases to passengers and how passengers respond to any fare changes will determine the effect of these proposals on carbon emissions and demand and revenue at airports.
The Fit for 55 proposals will reduce demand at European airports.
Fares on direct flights could increase by 11% in 2030 and 13% in 2050, leading to a reduction in demand of 5% in 2030 and 6% in 2050.
However, the Oxera report points out that while these policies will dampen demand, the overall trend is for future passenger demand to exceed 2019 levels. These policies will not curb flying. Aircraft will remain a preferred form of transport for many. Instead, they will only lessen the number of flights operating in Europe.
Climate change is a global issue, and the solutions should also be global.
Oxera finds Fit for 55 might encourage more airlines to program connecting flights that avoid European airports and switch routes to connect through other airports instead. Even flights originating in Europe destined for long-haul routes may choose to connect through airports elsewhere. After building the infrastructure to attract connecting flights, Europe’s airports need to remain viable.
What is more, this policy shift would not effectively accomplish its mission.
The proposals reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 54% in 2050 on flights within the EU, but only by 20% on flights that connect EU and non-EU airports.
ACI EUROPE proposes the following policies:
Further incentivise and provide financial support to increase uptake of SAF (sustainable aviation fuels).
Allocation of revenues from taxation and ETS for aviation decarbonisation
Exempt small airports from supplying electricity for stationary aircraft
Engagement with the EU’s main trading partners and other third countries to accelerate international decarbonisation goals and actions
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “The achievement of our climate goals is too important to proceed with anything other than the fullest body of knowledge possible. And the social and economic cohesion that comes with robust air connectivity is too valuable to our continent and communities to put at risk. Oxera’s report shows that the ‘Fit for 55’ package, whilst unquestionably valuable in its aspirations and directions, invites unwelcome and unanticipated consequences through a lack of a comprehensive and cumulative impact assessment. As we all strive to decarbonise our sector, let us go forward with our eyes wide open. The process will be costly and lengthy, and ours is by its very nature a global industry. The measures we propose today will help create a firm foundation for us to move forward whilst protecting Europe and its citizens from distortion and exclusion. We urge the European Institutions to incorporate these in their next steps”.
While the objective is to ensure a sustainable future for humanity, there are more gains to be made from flexibility.
Fresh green tech opportunities
In her article, Desharnais also raises awareness about the complexity of reporting, highlighting opportunities for the tech sector to offer solutions that will help keep aviation on track towards net-zero 2050.
“The spotlight on sustainability is resulting in a multitude of ESG ratings and rankings, sustainability reporting frameworks and guidelines, and target setting guidelines, popping up all over the sustainability landscape. Often dubbed the “ESG alphabet soup”, the topic continues to gain greater attention every day, demonstrating the pressing need for standardisation. For airports and many other businesses, it can easily become confusing. ACI’s ESG Management Best Practice aims to help airports better understand the differences between ESG and sustainability reporting, the steps they can take to start or improve reporting, and the reasons why investors are interested,” she writes.
The environmental commitments made by the aviation industry—to achieve net-zero targets by 2050—requires technological innovation not only in aircraft and fuel systems but in how we measure and keep track of operations. Governments, investors, and the travelling public will demand transparency along the path to net-zero. Ensuring accurate reporting will be essential.
After all, sustainability is nothing without accountability.
The Changi Airport Group, which manages Singapore’s Changi Airport, has announced a phased re-opening of the refreshed and updated Terminal 2 beginning May 29. Biometric identity will help expedite passenger processing at this terminal as Changi Airport prepares for increased passenger traffic in the coming months.
Changi’s T2 closed for upgrading work in May 2020, taking advantage of a reduction in passenger numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The upgrades are ongoing, with a planned completion date of 2024. When work is finished, the upgraded terminal is expected to handle five million more passengers than it did before the project began. This increase would put the terminal’s capacity at 28 million passenger movements per year.
The first phase of T2’s progressive re-opening addresses the needs of peak-hour travel for airlines operating in Terminal 3. It adds capacity for critical touchpoints, including arrival immigration, baggage claim belts, and contact gates at the southern wing of the terminal. A few flights will depart from boarding gates at T2, though passengers will still check-in and clear departure immigration at T3 during this phase of the reopening.
Mr Tan Lye Teck, CAG’s Executive Vice President of Airport Management, said of the reopening, “CAG is encouraged to see the strong pickup in travel demand and has worked closely with our partners to bring forward the progressive reopening of T2 ahead of the June travel peak to meet this demand. The start of flight operations at T2 will provide more capacity to support our airline partners, who are also gearing up to serve more passengers in the months ahead. T2 will reopen in phases over the next two years to support Changi’s recovery as a regional air hub.”
Biometric automation at immigration
One of the expanded T2 features will be a larger Arrival Immigration Hall. It will rely on automated immigration lanes and wider special assistance lanes to speed up passenger processing. The automated immigration lanes will be available to Singaporeans and residents who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). Eligible foreign visitors who have registered their biometrics on arrival in Singapore can also access these lanes.
Singapore’s ICA has embraced biometric ID, introducing the Multi-Modal Biometrics System (MMBS), which captures iris, facial and/or fingerprints of arriving and departing travellers at ICA passenger halls. ICA also has plans to make biometric identification available to foreign travellers who may visit Singapore often and prefer the speed and convenience by allowing them to register for Biometric ID for future trips. The Straits Times reports separately that the ICA intends automated clearance to be the norm for all travellers to Singapore beginning next year, 2023. The automating of these processes also supports pandemic containment, reducing the number of interpersonal contact points throughout the journey.
73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019).
51% would be willing to share their biometric data with partners, including hotels and car rental companies, if it helps facilitate their onward journey.
36% have experienced using biometric data when travelling.
86% of those who have used biometric data to travel were satisfied with the experience.
And the immigration process accounts for two of the top three touchpoints where passengers welcome the ease of biometric identity:
51% Entry Immigration
47% Exit Immigration
34% Security check
Airports have been investing in IT to support greater automation of the journey, with biometrics playing an essential role in that. SITA’s IT Trends report reveals:
84% of airports will invest in self-service processes.
83% of airports will implement touchless solutions for passengers and staff.
Nearly three-quarters of airports are also investing in biometric ID management solutions for passengers (74%), with 45% of those planning significant programs and 29% conducting R&D programs.
As SITA reports, “Investment in solutions for passenger identity management have increased in 2021, with several areas seeing growing implementation.” SITA says biometric identity will support several passenger processes beyond border control.
Self-check-in remains a key aspect of identity management solutions, with over half of airports (59%) in 2021 having implemented this (up from 46% last year).
A further 23% plan to implement self-check-in by 2024. Self bag-drop also remains critical, with 46% having invested (up from 35% last year) and a further 32% planning to do so.
Airport security (up from 28% to 40%) and enrolment at the airport (up from 20% to 29%) have seen growth in the past year.
For future investment, the focus is on departure and boarding gates.
27% of airports have implemented automated border gates at departure using biometrics and travel documents, but 64% plan to have these implemented by 2024.
24% have implemented self-boarding gates using biometrics only, but 62% plan to by 2024.
Over the next three years, 38% of airports plan to implement a secure, single biometric token for all touchpoints, though this is only implemented in 3% of airports today.
Is this the dawning of the age of passport-less travel?
Big hullabaloos made over the colour of passport books may be a thing of the past sooner than we might have imagined. As biometric identity becomes the norm, these paper documents could go the way of the dodo.
While the universal deployment of biometric identification is a welcome concept in the travel space, some issues with the technology will still need to be ironed out before we leap forward. Addressing data security, privacy controls, restricted access to biometric databases, and eliminating false-positive/false-negative results are only a few of these issues. There are ethical concerns, particularly in terms of the broader application of biometric data in commercial spaces. What is the risk of our biometric identifiers being sold or traded between companies and for consumer profiling? It is far greater than zero.
Singapore’s broad adoption of biometric identity, and similar programs advancing elsewhere in the world, could mean at least some of us will get to experience a journey right out of what has been, up to now, merely speculative fiction.
As we mark Earth Day this Friday, we thought to look at the airline industry’s progress on sustainability.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has defined a strategy to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Combined measures include cutting emissions at the source, switching to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), employing new propulsion technologies, adopting carbon offsetting schemes, and employing new carbon capture technologies.
IATA shows the share of each of these as contributors to the Fly Net Zero targets:
65% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
13% New technology, electric and hydrogen
3% Infrastructure and operational efficiencies
19% Offsets and carbon capture
The latest media update on the airline industry’s Fly Net Zero initiative, by Sebastian Mikosz, IATA SVP Environment & Sustainability, brings the focus back to long-term imperatives for the industry’s 2050 Net Zero emissions deadline.
Mikosz references the volatility in prices of oil, kerosene and commodities stemming from the current crisis in Ukraine. Airlines urgently need to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, but that requires significant investment from the public and private sectors in SAF and new technologies.
IATA projects airlines will require 450 billion litres of SAF by 2050 to reach the Net Zero goal, but government support is needed to ensure that adequate supply is available and affordable.
Mikosz writes that SAF uptake, purchase agreements, and production are rising, and investment in new energies like hydrogen or electric is increasing. Still, he warns, “The difficulties of achieving #FlyNetZero cannot be understated, but the progress we are seeing across the industry shows that this goal needs to be achieved, and progress is key, but the road ahead will be long.”
The key, Mikosz suggests, is to keep taking the small steps along the journey that lead us to the destination. He also shares updates on those critical small steps.
Progress on SAF (Demand)
In March, Airbus flew its biggest aeroplane – the A380 – on SAF: the aircraft flew from Toulouse with one of its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines powered by 100% sustainable fuel.
Ryanair aims to achieve a third of its decarbonisation target by flying its planes with sustainable aviation fuels.
Oneworld members are to purchase up to 200 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year from Gevo.
Neste and DHL have announced one of the largest ever sustainable aviation fuel deals. Neste will supply DHL with approximately 320,000 tonnes (400 million litres) of SAF in the next five years.
Finnair signed an agreement with Aemetis to supply 17.5 million gallons of SAF over seven years.
British Airways took delivery of an initial batch of the first UK-produced SAF under its agreement with Phillips 66.
Progress on SAF (Production)
Honeywell and China’s Oriental Energy Company plan to build China’s first SAF production base.
TotalEnergies will begin producing SAF at its Normandy platform and aims to fulfil the French government’s new mandate for aircraft to use at least 1% of SAF by 1 January 2022.
Repsol has begun constructing Spain’s first advanced biofuels plant at its Cartagena refinery.
“Algae can be used as an alternative energy source for many industries, including biofuel and as jet fuel,” says Joshua Yuan, PhD, who leads the research project. “Algae is a good alternative fuel source for this industry. It’s an alternate feedstock for bioethanol refinery without the need for pretreatment. It’s lower cost than coal or natural gas. It also provides for a more efficient way of carbon capture and utilisation.”
While many studies over the past decade suggest algae has excellent potential as fuel biomass, algae growth limitations and high harvest costs hinder commercialisation.
“We overcome these challenges by advancing machine learning to inform the design of a semi-continuous algal cultivation (SAC) to sustain optimal cell growth and minimise mutual shading,” Yuan said.
Yuan uses an aggregation-based sedimentation strategy designed to achieve low-cost biomass harvesting and economical SAC.
Government support for new technology
France announced an investment plan that will allocate €1.2 billion for decarbonising aviation, between 2022 and 2030, including €800 million in R&D towards the development of a hydrogen aircraft.
Alternative fuel start-up Universal Hydrogen will open a facility in New Mexico (US) to manufacture and distribute hydrogen fuel tanks for aircraft.
Airbus will explore high-voltage battery behaviour during test flights of an electric light aircraft this year. The aircraft manufacturer hopes to apply the technology to ‘micro-hybridisation’ – using battery power in a supportive, rather than a propulsive, role for more significant aircraft types.
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Pratt & Whitney a project to develop highly efficient hydrogen-fuelled propulsion technology for the commercial aviation industry.
Delta and Airbus will collaborate on industry-leading research to accelerate the development of a hydrogen-powered aircraft and the ecosystem it requires.
Denmark pledged to build up to six gigawatts (GW) of electrolysis capacity to convert renewable power into green hydrogen as it weans itself off fossil fuels to boost energy security.
In India, Kochi airport became the world’s first to operate on solar power completely.
Everything you didn’t even think you wanted to know about SAF production
The authors of the report summarise SAF targets and objectives in the Abstract as follows:
“The 106-billion-gallon global (21-billion-gallon domestic) commercial jet fuel market is projected to grow to over 230 billion gallons by 2050 (U.S. EIA 2020a). Cost-competitive, environmentally sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are recognized as a critical part of decoupling carbon growth from market growth. Renewable and wasted carbon can provide a path to low-cost, clean-burning, and low-soot-producing jet fuel. Research shows an opportunity to produce fuel in which aromatics are initially diluted with the addition of renewable iso-alkanes, aromatics are later fully replaced with cycloalkanes, and finally high-performance molecules that provide mission-based value to jet fuel consumers are introduced. Key to this fuel pathway is sourcing the three SAF blendstocks—iso-alkanes, cycloalkanes, and high-performing molecules—from inexpensive resources. When resourced from waste carbon, there are often additional benefits, such as cleaner water when sourcing carbon from wet sludges or less waste going to landfills when sourcing the carbon from municipal solid waste or plastic waste. Jet fuel properties differ from gasoline and diesel, so research will be most successful if it begins with the end result in mind.”
Solar Fuel with Synhelion & SWISS
As IATA’s Mikosz highlights, another opportunity for SAF production exists with renewable electricity and solar heat. Both need synthesis gas as an intermediate, hydrogen and carbon monoxide mixture. Industrial gas-to-liquid processes could then turn this into liquid fuel.
SWISS and the Lufthansa Group are working with Synhelion to develop sun-to-liquid (StL) fuel. Synhelion has developed a unique technology that will use solar heat to drive thermochemical processes for SAF production. Solar heat is the cheapest renewable energy source available. Solar-fuel plants are self-sustaining without requiring a power-grid connection so that production capacities can scale quickly and independently.
Happy Earth Day, everyone. It’s a lovely little world. Let’s keep it.
As Valour Consultancy explains: “Airlines want to see EFBs [electronic flight bags] (and cabin crew devices to a lesser extent) become increasingly holistic platforms which operate in an integrated system rather than as lots of standalone apps which operate in isolation; however, they also want to retain the ability to select solutions from different vendors to suit their users’ needs. Marrying these two desires is one of the major challenges facing the industry, and efforts to do so are already well underway. This trend will be one of the primary drivers of growth over the coming years.”
Airline industry veteran and Jetliner Cabins author, Jennifer Coutts Clay also covered this trend in a recent article for Inflight Magazine. As she writes, the days of paper-based flight logs and charts are at an end. “[T]he advent of apps has fundamentally changed the traditional cabin-management process.” Cabin crew can now use their airline-issued PED (Personal Electronic Device) to offer superior and more personalised passenger service. With access to live information on passenger food preferences, the status of a passengers’ flight connection, or recent complaints about the journey, cabin crew can quickly address issues and foster loyal flyers.
So what does that look like for the passenger journey? Take an example of an average digitally savvy passenger who has booked their reservation online, obtained digital documents for travel, dropped off their luggage at a digital self-drop location, helped themselves speed through the security line and boarded the aircraft using biometric ID. When they board the aircraft, they will likely want to either use the seat-embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE) or stream content to their own personal electronic device from the airline’s wireless IFE platform. A number of airlines have already made their systems compatible to link with passengers’ own electronic devices so they can queue up content ahead of boarding that will begin playing whenever they like at their seat. But more than that, passengers may want to pre-select their meal options, or order a-la-carte from the menu of snacks and beverages available onboard. Having a ‘smart’ cabin means that passengers could use either their PED or their seat-back screen to place their FAB orders. The inventory system in the ‘smart’ galley could automatically assign dishes top passengers seats, updated to crew’s PEDs so they know who gets what, and keep a running stock in real-time so that passengers can be offered alternatives either by the application or the crew when their first choice is no longer available. The data gathered from that process can help inform the airlines’ catering choices, ensuring less food waste onboard, and adequate stock of more popular items on a specific route. Less food waste is not only better for the environment, it also represents a significant boost to the airline’s bottom line.
On a connected aircraft, passengers can also be alerted on the status of their RFD-tracked baggage, and on the status of their connecting flight. Informed passengers will have fewer reasons to seek-out help from customer service representatives either on the ground at the airport or at call centres or on social. That passengers can self-serve through digital tools to be in control of the journey saves both the passengers and the airline time and money.
Valour finds the effort companies are putting into these cabin digitalisation developments is yielding returns, even in harsh market conditions. “Despite the impact of COVID-19 on airline expenditure, many cockpit and cabin application vendors have performed resiliently in the face of extremely challenging market conditions. Indeed, some have even emerged stronger from the past couple of years. This is because applications such as performance optimisation solutions and electronic tech logs (ETLs) offer considerable cost savings to airlines by either saving on fuel or improving turnaround times,” they write. “Still, significant challenges remain. The market remains fragmented and the dual effects of integration difficulties and dependency on connectivity, which some applications require to have full functionality, means growth is hindered to a degree.”
The IoT of planes
The integration of various digitalised cabin systems is another challenge ahead, as Valour points, out. But vendors are actively working to ensure that happens.
While recent headlines have drawn attention to ‘teething’ issues with 5G roll-outs near airports in the United States, the technical benefits of this new high-speed connectivity both on the ground and in the air will boost airline digitalisation, addressing some of the barriers to growth that Valour Consultancy identifies.
“In a world where some three billion of us – and counting – have our world on our smartphones, people’s dependence on universal, ‘always-on’ mobile connectivity is set for surefire growth,” SITA writes. “And this is just as true onboard the aircraft, as on the ground. When our predecessors conducted the first inflight cellular data transmission more than a decade ago, no one would have anticipated having to adjust to life in a pandemic. But in the today and tomorrow of the post-COVID-19 flying experience, new inflight mobile services, offering expanded capacity and capabilities, will become increasingly relevant to airlines and passengers.”
SITA concludes: “While there is a famous lag in the time it takes for terrestrial trends to land in the cabin, it’s just a matter of time before inflight 5G comes onboard. And when it does, it’ll not just enable an improved and unified passenger experience. It’ll have the performance and capacity necessary to handle fast-mounting rates of mobile and connected device usage, and all the innovation potential that lies within.”
“It could be a year in which the airline industry recovers some of the profits lost during the pandemic. That’s the picture for leisure travel, especially in the burgeoning premium leisure sector. The recovery of business travel is complex and largely unwritten. Online meeting technology continues to march ahead, company employees are still working from home, corporations are setting carbon reductions tied to business travel, and the airline industry still struggles to find firmer footing. Innovation and resilience saved airlines during the pandemic, and these same traits will allow airlines to adapt to the changes wrought by new communication technologies and carbon emission concerns,” the report’s author, Jay Sorensen explains.
Business is tough, even at home
Is the work-from-home trend having a long-term impact on domestic business travel? It may not be the only factor at play, but as Sorensen points out business today is nothing like usual.
“Delta’s presentation during its 2021 Capital Markets Day reflects overall conditions in the airline industry. Domestic leisure travel is rebounding, while international travel has not recovered. Domestic business travel is off 40 percent from pre-pandemic volumes. Other carriers report similar results with United Airlines disclosing a 40 percent business travel revenue reduction and Air France a 50 percent loss of long haul corporate revenue compared to 2019. It’s a vast improvement from the depths of the pandemic when business travel ceased to exist, but still lagging,” he writes. “Commerce throughout the pandemic has largely remained strong. This has certainly not been true for the travel industry, and in particular for airlines. Business activity marched on without the benefit of salespeople, buyers, technicians, trainers, researchers, and board members traveling to factories, offices, and conferences for face-to-face meetings. This once oh-so- necessary activity was replaced with services such as Zoom, Meet, Teams, and Hangouts. Work-from-home changed from an elusive perk for the few to an expectation for the many. Travel, once a vibrant component of the corporate world, was sidelined by the swirl of all these changes. Business travel is returning but it won’t come back the same. Too much has changed during these 24 months, with the pandemic forcing companies to embrace online meeting tools. Savvy airlines will anticipate the changes and tap new areas of consumer spending for travel.”
It’s a new climate
As Sorensen points out, corporate carbon budgets are leading to greater scrutiny of business travel.
“We are in an era in which corporations are actively engaged in climate change issues. CDP is a not-for-profit charity that operates a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. Ten years ago, 3,500+ companies disclosed data to CDP; as of 2021 the number is more than 13,000.2 The list includes top airlines in the world, which have climate change scores ranging from A- to F. Environmental concerns were not included in the 2020 assessment of business travel trends; it’s something which must be considered in 2022. Corporate attention all over the world has turned to the issue of climate change and the reduction of carbon. For some companies, airline travel represents the largest share of their carbon footprint,” Sorensen writes.
But more than a challenge, one might argue this is a marketing opportunity. The aviation industry is already committed to drastically reducing its carbon footprint, but being at the lead in the climate change challenge can lead to favourable brand differentiation.
“Companies can use a variety of methods to reduce business travel emissions. This includes choosing airlines that promise to use sustainable aviation fuels, purchasing carbon offsets, substituting rail for airline travel, sharing ground transportation, booking fuel efficient cars and green hotels, taking nonstop flights, downgrading from business class, and substituting digital for actual travel. There are many alternatives for carbon reduction that don’t involve cancelling business trips. Airlines and other travel suppliers that embrace these tools will naturally capture a larger share of the business travel market,” Sorensen writes.
Face-to-face still matters to the bottom line
Sorensen finds there are still some key motivators pushing companies to allow business travel.
25% for purposes of sales and securing clients
20% intra-company meetings
20% conventions and trade-shows
10% support of existing customers
10% tech support — equipment and IT
10% professional services — clients and research
5% commuters by air
“The resulting division between customer and internal audiences is approximately 65 and 35 percent respectively. That’s a meaningful distinction, that two-thirds of business travel is customer-facing and thus difficult to replace with technology,” Sorensen writes. “This brings us back to the December 2020 report which predicted a 19 to 36 percent drop in business travel due to the effects of online meeting technology. Developments since then continue to support the prior thesis, along with a new emphasis on the carbon emissions produced by business travel. Projecting reduced levels of business travel should include another caveat. The global economy could come roaring back with a dramatic increase in overall commercial activity above the 2019 baseline. This rising tide would lift all boats, and airline travel could increase above pre-pandemic levels. Whether this increase would be enduring or temporary is yet another unknown. The most likely outcome has the global economy gradually rebounding with a three- to four-year delay before achieving net growth above 2019 levels. The continuance or escalation of war in Europe and any future Covid variant activity would reduce economic growth and business travel activity.”
More on this last point later.
Business purpose is less important than high-revenue seating and posting the revenue share of the cabin footprint
With all of this in mind, it’s also well past time to think beyond the aircraft cabin as little nooks for the affluent (first), the “business person” (business class) and everyone else (coach). These cabin classes were already growing irrelevant before the crisis we face now.
In fact, I’ve been writing about the need for airlines to change this thinking for years and years and years and years. Fortunately, many airlines have changed, by adding premium economy seating and differentiating their economy class product. Growing trends over the last decade hinted at what we are experiencing now, the rise of the freelancer entrepreneur, the advent of travel and lifestyle influencers, and the cautious corporate cutbacks ‘less flash more productivity’ which began during the last recession. They all predicted what Sorensen finds happening now.
“Airlines are already making the configuration change from business class to premium economy. A recent headline in the London Sunday Times proclaimed: Airlines ditch first class but offer fliers more legroom in ‘premium economy.’,” Sorensen writes. (Just imagine the grin on my face right now.) “The largest market potential for premium economy is offered by upscale leisure travellers. Glen Hauenstein, president of Delta Air Lines, said, ‘We believe that through the pandemic, we’ve created kind of a new class of customer which is a high end consumer who wants these products.’ This is a bold statement because new types of travellers are a rare bird in an industry that’s more than a century old. Mr. Hauenstein makes the argument that the loss of business travellers during the pandemic created the opportunity for wealthy consumers to book premium seats, which were traditionally held for corporate customers at high fares. Airline executives are enthusiastic about the revenue to be gained by mining this treasure of leisure passengers. The president of Delta added more rationale for the focus on leisure, ‘Demand for premium products is actually exceeding our coach products with the business traveler out. The big epiphany for us was there’s a much broader demand for this than just business travelers.’ He closes the argument by predicting the initiative will produce attractive profits.”
Where were are is not great, but it’s also hardly the end
While these factors and their impact on business class today are certainly something to consider, it’s also important to keep in mind that we are not back to anything like “normalcy.” So any progress or recovery we see is doubly-remarkable for happening in the most adverse conditions. The most pessimistic of us could not possibly have dreamt up this scenario in 2019.
Airlines have been pushing for a relaxation of mask requirements onboard and the lifting of other travel restrictions, and the world wants to move on from COVID, but the pandemic is still very much with us. Add to that the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, both socially and economically, and we are still living through a prolonged combination of business shattering factors that we haven’t experienced for many generations.
I don’t believe we can compare the current combination of crises to any previous black swan events in the history of aviation. Nor can we really compare this time period to previous historical crises of the 20th century. I would argue that we are currently experiencing is the equivalent of combining two historic crises.
The plague-cycle conditions of the Middle Ages (when it was generally accepted that society would by necessity retreat and isolate, from time to time, to avoid mass contagion and then return to “city life” when the most recent scare passed) most closely resemble to me what we are go through with the COVID-19 variant waves. In other words, we are not yet able to stamp this thing out completely, but we learn to ride the waves and return to life as we would have it for however long we can, retreat again to wait out the worst, and then return again. It’s hardly ideal, but society has adapted to these cycles before, and we can do so for however long we need to. There is always a percentage of people who will venture out, and airlines still have the huge advantage of being a superior method to cross continents. No other transport system in the history of humanity can get people there and back as quickly as a plane. That is unlikely to change soon.
Regrettably, we now also face a serious political crisis in Europe which threatens world markets and which inevitably will affect airline recovery. It’s not enough to point out that the Russian incursion in Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis in Europe. It is also affecting food supplies throughout the world and affecting global energy supplies. Should the crisis continue, or God forbid escalate, a global recession may not be far off. Airlines would have to adapt again.
Both of these events happening at once might seem too much for aviation to withstand, but the human desire to live and even thrive through chaos is stronger than the chaos humans are capable of bringing about. At least, to me, that has been the lesson of history. We have been through any combination of earth-shattering, lifestyle-shifting events many times over the centuries. And yet, here we are—not behind, but far ahead. I am writing this on a device connected to the world which is a useful tool to perpetuate the momentum of business even when ordinary life has come to a grinding halt. It is nothing like meeting with you in person to give you this pep talk, but it will do for now.
Our expectation for recovery to business “as was” in aviation should be tempered. It doesn’t really matter who flies or when they fly as much as the fact that people are flying—despite all of this—because flying is an essential component of modern society. I think it’s really remarkable that Sorensen’s data shows 10% of business flying demand is produced by IT-related needs. Computers have changed our lives for the better, but they are not all of life. And they too—from development to production to distribution—rely on aviation.
What must happen is that governments should continue to recognise aviation as vital social and economic infrastructure. In other words, if things get grim, airlines should get a helping hand. After all, airlines pay lots of taxes.
And, as Sorensen says: “Ours is an industry which knows how to persevere and serve.”
Airbus has announced an ambitious strategy to decarbonise the air transport industry, with the ZEROe project—which explores zero-emission technologies for a future aircraft—playing a significant role.
Hydrogen is one of the most promising zero-emission technologies to reduce aviation’s climate impact, and airports play a pivotal role in enabling the transition to a climate-neutral aviation ecosystem.
Airbus Hydrogen Hub at Airports
In 2020, Airbus launched “Hydrogen Hub at Airports”, which aims to jumpstart research into infrastructure requirements for future hydrogen aircraft, as well as low-carbon airport operations, across the entire value chain. Various airport authorities, airlines and energy providers are already signing on to get involved.
“Airports have a key role to play to enable the transition to a climate-neutral air transport ecosystem,” said Lionel Cousseins, Airbus ZEROe Market Development and Airline Relations Manager. “Hydrogen Hub at Airports enables us to collaborate with partners to define needs today, so we can pave the way for hydrogen adoption by 2035.”
There are benefits to Hydrogen Hubs for airports that go beyond powering future sustainable aircraft. For example, ground transport, including buses for passenger transport to and from aircraft, and heavy-dutylogistical vehicles – such as aircraft tugs and cargo trucks –could also be powered by hydrogen in future, contributing to a reduction in airports’ overall emissions. Airports can also improve their environmental impact by using hydrogen for cooling and heating the airport facility.
“The on-site production (and liquefaction) of hydrogen could also be a promising option for airports to meet their individual energy needs. This solution would eliminate the need for transport to and from off-site hydrogen production facilities, which would further reduce emissions. In doing so, airports could also become future energy ecosystems with liquid hydrogen production at their core,” Airbus suggests.
Airbus expects to produce the first hydrogen-powered aircraft around 2035. The European aerospace company has been encouraging airports to prepare facilities for the supply of hydrogen to power the new greener aircraft.
Changi and Incheon
In February, Airbus signed a Cooperation Agreement with Changi Airport Group, global industrial gases and engineering company Linde and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to study building a future hydrogen hub in the city-state.
Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer, Han Kok Juan, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Yam Kum Weng, Executive Vice President of Changi Airport Group, and John Panikar, Executive Vice President, APAC of Linde, signed the agreement at the Singapore Airshow.
The partners aim to leverage their expertise in support of the aviation industry’s commitment to decarboniseand achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. They will examine how hydrogen can be transported, stored and delivered to aircraft at existing and new airports.
Airbus will provide characteristics on aircraft configuration and fleet energy usage, insight on hydrogen-powered aircraft for ground operations, and data on the estimated hydrogen aircraft ramp-up at airports.
“The Asia-Pacific region will play a key role as we work towards making climate-neutral aviation a reality,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer. “By partnering with Changi Airport and with Incheon Airport, Airbus will leverage the operational and technical expertise of two of the world’s leading hubs. The studies we will carry out together reflect the need for a cross-sectoral approach, including manufacturers, airlines, regulators, airports, energy providers and academia. We need bold and coordinated action to achieve our goals.”
The agreement will focus on a series of feasibility studies aimed at developing a hydrogen refuelling hub for non-aviation use in the short term and developing infrastructure for hydrogen use in aviation in the future.
“With this agreement, SEA has taken a concrete step forward in enabling important solutions for the decarbonisation of airports and the entire industry,” said Armando Brunini, CEO of SEA. “We are going through an important transition and have chosen to be at the forefront of it, together with our partners. Innovation is in the DNA of aviation and, also thanks to Airbus, is moving towards a transformation that was unimaginable up to just a few years ago. We are proud to be part of it.”
With Milano Malpensa and Milano Linate airports, SEA is among the European airports that will achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030, twenty years earlier than the 2050 deadline set by the European Green Deal.
SEA is part of the European Commission-funded project “OLGA, hOlistic & Green Airports,” committed to decarbonising aviation. This project will significantly contribute to the complex challenge of CO2 reduction while improving energy efficiency, air quality and biodiversity. SEA’s strategic plan for rapid post-pandemic recovery focuses on environmental and sustainability-related transitions.
The partners chose the airport of Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (VINCI Airports’ centre of excellence for innovation) as the pilot airport, with the first installations as early as 2023.
The implementation of this project includes several phases:
From 2023: deployment of a hydrogen gas distribution station at Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport. This station will supply both the airport’s ground vehicles (buses, trucks, handling equipment, etc.) and those of its partners, as well as the heavy goods vehicles that drive around the airport. This first phase is essential to test the airport’s facilities and dynamics as a “hydrogen hub” in its reach area.
Between 2023 and 2030: deployment of liquid hydrogen infrastructures that will allow the provision of hydrogen into the tanks of future aircraft.
Beyond 2030: deployment of the hydrogen infrastructure from production to mass distribution of liquid hydrogen at the airport.
By 2030, the three partners will study the possibility of equipping VINCI Airports’ European airport network with the hydrogen production, storage and supply facilities needed for use on the ground and onboard aircraft.
“This partnership illustrates the partners’ shared commitment to decarbonising air travel and is a major step forward for the development of hydrogen across the airport ecosystem,” Airbus stated.
VINCI Airports has 45 airports in 12 countries, which will help create a robust supply network as this technology takes off.
During the Aviation Festival London, Sjoerd Blum, Chief Information Officer, Royal Schiphol Group, suggested airports should think of themselves less as infrastructure and more as tech companies, with technological innovation and data management driving their strategies for recovery and growth.
“Like anybody in the sector, we were severely hit by the crisis that we’re in together, but the good thing is that our long-term ambition still stands. We aim to be the world’s most sustainable and highest quality airport,” Blum said. Blum suggested it is essential to make the most of technology and data to succeed. “No matter if you talk airport operations, if you talk commercial, if you talk safety, security, or asset management, or your staff, you make the difference in the future as an airport if you make technology and data work to the maximum.”
To achieve their goals, Schiphol has prioritized IT and data. “You start to look like a tech company, who does tech for their existence,” Blum said. “If you look through your traditional eyes at an airport, you might still see that infrastructure company that we have been over the past 100 years. But if you look a little bit closer, you see a company driven full with tech, driven forward by the power of data…Think like a tech company. We took that as a leading principle when adjusting because of the [COVID] crisis…But we said we would not only want to adapt because of COVID. We also want to improve. We want to build back better.”
So what does “think like a tech company” mean in practical terms? As Blum explained, it means putting technology to the forefront not as a supporting mechanism for the infrastructure but as the driving engine of the business.
“A tech company first has a foundation on which they built all their IT and data products. Those products are built as part of the business, not by an IT team doing that for the business—as an integrated part of your business, ensuring that it leads to value…You make smart use of what the market can do for you.”
As an integrated part of the business in operations, safety, security, commercial, asset management, and human resource management, Schiphol has developed business platforms that gather data as part of their primary activity. Schiphol has also prioritized connectivity solutions that will support large scale, real-time gathering and sharing of data and building a smart facility.
“We are taking important steps to be ready for the connectivity of tomorrow—thinking about 5G in our enabling technology outlook,” Blum said. “Fully embarking now on the power of what the cloud can do for us and the integration that will come. Our data and AI strategy is not only about the foundational parts, getting one platform doing your engineering, but is also very much focused on getting the products into the business platforms…In essence, the management platform is all about getting to an intelligent asset control centre, safety and security, and a seamless flow biometrics journey.”
Other advantages of technology-led total airport management operations at Schiphol include refining their commercial strategies by making better use of passenger data, creating a “workplace of the future” for staff.
Blum also highlighted the importance of cyber defence in a technology-led airport. “We are opening up as a sector, and the bad guys are aware of it as well. So you need a cyber roadmap that goes together with the steps that you’re taking,” Blum said.
The next step for Schiphol’s tech-company strategy is the potential commercialisation of their technology developments.
“Thinking like a tech company also convinced us that we should no longer just be building products that can bring value to Amsterdam. We are looking at building products that can also function somewhere else in everything we do. That can be within our group, as Schiphol airports, but it can also have value [at other] airports. What we have done is we have partnered up with the market, and we are now able to bring the products that bring value to us, also to other airports.”
Schiphol has developed solutions for staff communications, airport disruption management, and sustainability criteria, among others, which Blum suggested could be offered to airports with fewer IT development capabilities in-house.