Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 Disruption on the Decarbonisation Agenda at Airports: Grounded or Ready for Take-Off?
2. Materials and Methods
- Planned Interventions: Respondents were presented with a list of 22 GHG emission reduction and removal interventions compiled by the authors and considered broadly representative of those that are technologically feasible for implementation at airports now or within the next three decades (Table 1). These range from policy advocacy to technological solutions; some are on-site solutions and some market-based. Based on their own implementation plans, the respondents were asked to group these into four categories based on their own implementation plans: (1) 2020 to 2030; (2) 2030 Onward; (3) “We already do this”; (4) “We don’t intend to pursue this”.
- Funding: Respondents were asked “Please indicate how you intend to fund these interventions”, and to distribute the (hypothetical) funding across the following three categories: (1) Internal funding; (2) External funding—Research and Innovation Grants; (3) External funding—Industrial partnerships, Other Funding Models.
- “The impacts of COVID have made climate change a higher priority within the business”
- “COVID is an existential threat to our business”
- “Climate Change is an existential threat to our business”
- “The highest priority for the organization is business continuity”
- “The impacts of COVID have disrupted our ability to implement planned carbon reduction and removal strategies”
- Opinion on the current standing of climate change and sustainability agenda within the business given COVID-19 disruption: what has changed; do they recognise the recent narrative around sustainable or green recovery.
- Potential Opportunities: do they recognise any changes in operation or working at the airport that might unlock carbon reductions or a more sustainable way of operating into the future; the perceived longevity of these opportunities.
- Barriers: respondents were asked to identify both short-term barriers to implementation of projects, and long-term impact in regard to their climate change or sustainability targets (for many “Net Zero” by 2050 targets); the perceived longevity of these; whether some COVID-19 mitigation strategies are counter to climate change mitigation and sustainability measures; what might provide resilience to similar events in the future. Any high-level opportunities and barriers participants identified previously in the questionnaire were explored in further detail.
- Strategy: Participants were asked to provide an overview of how their climate change mitigation strategy is set and to identify the main drivers.
3.1. Online Self-Completion Questionnaire
- “Cooperation with partners: because the airport itself is not enough to reduce the CO2 emissions and so on efficiently. Cooperation with the airport partners, with the government, with the stakeholders, with the residents and so on …”
- “Effective collaboration between all the stakeholders. We need to be very, very close—airport, airlines, handling managers, because I think that this is going to be the key, we need to be all in the same team, but for that it is really important to increase our business in the future”.
- “The key thing is having that partnership approach—it’s not just the airport that’s going to fix the problem, it’s not just airlines, but how can everybody work together? How can everybody see how they can each understand their contribution and work towards a common goal?”
- The majority of AOs perceived that COVID-19 would have a negligible impact on the long-term decarbonisation goals of airports.
- Climate change has retained its position as a strategic priority, something it had attained pre-COVID-19.
- AOs have already implemented several climate change mitigation interventions and show intention to continue with their strategies. Given the current and persistent strain on capital and resources, implementation plans for the next decade are ambitious.
- The most popular interventions for deployment in the next decade are on-site renewables, EVs and related infrastructure. Engineered carbon removal interventions were recorded as being the most unlikely types to be deployed in this timeframe. This has potential implications for Net Zero because decarbonisation pathways are likely to rely at least to some degree on such interventions to achieve “zero”.
- AOs should nurture collaborative approaches with other aviation stakeholders and explore partnership opportunities to implement new business models and more ambitious interventions for climate change, including those that enable and support alternative propulsion aircraft.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Description of Node||Insights|
|Impact||Reported short- and long-term impacts on the climate change mitigation and sustainability strategies of Airport Operators; the perceived longevity of these impacts.|
|Barriers to implementation||New or potential barriers to the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies resulting from the COVID disruption.|
|Financial||Financial barriers to climate change mitigation strategy||Reduced or suspended capital programmes including climate change mitigation or wider sustainability projects; re-justification of expenses.|
|Human Resources||Personnel impacts as a barrier to implement strategy.||Furlough; difficulty bringing together relevant stakeholders.|
|Alleviating Factors||Factors which AOs perceive have provided the airport(s) and strategy some resilience from the impacts of COVID.||Strength of domestic market as an alleviating factor.|
|Long-term impact||AOs’ perceived impact of COVID on their long-term climate change mitigation objectives, goals, targets.||COVID not considered a threat to long-term climate change goals.|
|Short-term impact||Any unexpected, new or emerging impacts on airport or related operations that have a consequence on the climate change mitigation and wider sustainability agenda at airports.|
|Energy||Energy-related impacts from changes to operations, such as clean air requirements, pax density in terminal buildings.||Ventilation requirements counter to efficient operation.|
|Prioritising Health and Safety||AO perception that assuring health and safety takes priority over negative impacts on climate change and sustainability.||Health and Safety the logical priority at this time.|
|Air Traffic and Passengers||Impacts on type of aircraft received, mission type, domestic/ international market share and its impact on the climate change and sustainability agenda.||Peak in cargo traffic; overall traffic reduction likely to have environmental benefit.|
|Longevity||Perceived longevity of these impacts.||Undesirable impacts on climate change and sustainability considered short-term and easy to mitigate.|
|Project Delays||Impacts specifically on climate change and sustainability projects.||Delay to eGSE project; delays to multi-stakeholder projects.|
|Vehicles||Impact on passenger surface access or third-party operational vehicles.||One vehicle per passenger policy.|
|Waste||New and emerging waste streams or issues and their perceived impact on climate change mitigation and sustainability agenda.||Waste PPE as an emerging problem.|
|Opportunities||Any new, emerging or potential opportunities that AOs have identified in this period as supportive to the climate change mitigation or sustainability agenda at airports.|
|Alternative Funding and Business Models||Innovation; potential new methods of financing projects; potential new business models.||Exploration of green financing and partnership models for on-site renewables and EV charging infrastructure.|
|Methods of Working||New methods of working that are beneficial to the climate change and sustainability agenda; new opportunities for airport stakeholder collaboration.||Teleworking; new spirit of collaboration.|
|Pace||A slower pace of working unlocking new opportunities.||Time for consideration of new sustainability methods; easier to implement pilots.|
|Prioritisation and Reassessment||This period as a time to review, reassess and reprioritise strategy and interventions.||Strategic review; focus on delivery of highest carbon benefit for investment.|
|Recovery||AOs’ comments on recovery in relation to the climate change and sustainability agenda at airports—an integral theme undercutting many responses impacting barriers, opportunities and strategy.|
|Benefits and public perception||AO comments on the need to protect aviation’s benefits; AOs’ concern over public perception of aviation during this period.||Calls to protect the benefits of aviation; impact on consumer confidence.|
|Government||AO comments on government and policymakers, their interventions so far or thoughts on interventions required to support the climate change mitigation agenda at airports; AO comments on Vaccine and Testing as a driver for recovery.||Lack of government support; EU financial packages for airports beneficial; Vaccine and Rapid Testing key factor for recovery.|
|Uncertainty||Uncertainty of the period and, therefore, recovery.||Awareness of complexity and multi-factors governing recovery.|
|Collaboration||Emerging theme of collaboration being key to recovery.||Need for collaboration across all aviation and airport stakeholders; Airports unable to tackle pressures alone.|
|Strategy||The perceived strategic importance of the climate change mitigation agenda at airports through the COVID period and the perceived reasons for its standing, including internal and external drivers.|
|Strategic Importance||AO comments on the climate change mitigation agenda current standing in the business and influence of COVID on this.||Climate change still of strategic importance or has risen in strategic importance due to COVID.|
|Drivers||AOs’ comments on the drivers currently influencing the climate change mitigation strategy at airports.|
|Frameworks and Public Commitments||Perceptions of accreditation frameworks and public decarbonisation commitments and their impact on strategy at this time.||ACI ACA Net Zero Commitment beneficial but some airports ahead; National ESG commitments advantageous to top-down action.|
|Directors, Investors||Senior management and investors driving or enabling climate change mitigation strategy within the business; top-down influence.||Engagement of the management in Climate Change action is present; investor voice increasingly influential.|
|Public||Public pressure influencing the agenda.||Increasing public understanding and pressure|
|Staff||AO comments on colleagues within the business push the agenda; bottom-up.||Colleagues creating their own sustainability groups.|
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|No.||Intervention Description||Scopes Impacted||Emission Reduction or Removal|
|1||Decarbonising Airport Infrastructure and Heating||1||Reduction|
|2||On-site Renewable Electricity Generation||2||Reduction|
|3||Purchasing Renewable electricity (Market based instruments)||2||Reduction|
|4||Decarbonising Colleague Surface Access, e.g., car share schemes||3||Reduction|
|5||Decarbonising Passenger Surface Access, e.g., access charges, new public transport options||3||Reduction|
|6||Utilising low carbon construction materials and processes||3||Reduction|
|7||Pursuing Circular Economy, waste re-use and servicisation opportunities||3||Reduction|
|8||Policy Change Advocacy (National, International)||3||Reduction|
|9||Tackling fugitive emission sources, e.g., De-Icer and Fire Training||3||Reduction|
|10||Provision of Fixed Electric Ground Power (FEGP)||3||Reduction|
|11||Enabling Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) up-take at airport||3||Reduction|
|12||Provision of Pre-Conditioned Air (PCA)||3||Reduction|
|13||Tackling LTO emissions, e.g., E-taxiing, Single Engine Taxiing||3||Reduction|
|14||Infrastructure provision for future aircraft types, e.g., electric, hybrid, hydrogen, vTOL||3||Reduction|
|15||Enabling or influencing airspace improvements||3||Reduction|
|16||Enabling or influencing airfield and ground movements improvements||3||Reduction|
|17||Establish a Voluntary Carbon Offsetting Platform||3||Reduction/Removal|
|18||Provision of Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure||1, 3||Reduction|
|19||Alternative fuels for ground vehicles, e.g., HVO, Hydrogen||1, 3||Reduction|
|20||Pursuing Carbon Capture and Utilisation technologies||1, 2, 3||Removal|
|21||Pursuing Engineered Carbon Removals, e.g., BECCS, DACCS||1, 2, 3||Removal|
|22||Pursuing Removals through Nature Based Solutions, e.g., Afforestation, Reforestation||1, 2, 3||Removal|
|Level 1||Level 2||Description of Node|
|Impact||Barriers to implementation||New and emerging COVID-related barriers to the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies by Airport Operators.|
|Long-term goal impacts||Airport Operators’ perceived impact of COVID on their long-term climate change mitigation objectives and goals.|
|Operational impacts||Any unexpected, new or emerging COVID-related impacts on airport or related operations that have a consequence on the climate change mitigation and wider sustainability agenda at airports.|
|Opportunities||Any emerging or new opportunities that Airport Operators have identified in this period as supportive to the climate change mitigation or wider sustainability agenda at airports.|
|Strategy||The perceived strategic importance of the climate change mitigation agenda at airports following COVID and reasons for this, including internal and external drivers.|
|AO Location||Respondents per location|
|Asia and Pacific||1|
|Total Passenger numbers 2019||Respondents per category|
|5 to 10 million||3|
|10 to 20 million||5|
|20 to 50 million||4|
|50 to 80 million||4|
|Operating Revenue 2019 (GBP equivalent)||Respondents per category|
|100 to 500 million||4|
|500 million to 1 billion||6|
|1 billion to 2 billion||4|
|Identifying Code||Location||Size (Passengers 2019)|
|A1||North America||50 to 80 million|
|A2||Europe||5 to 10 million|
|A3||Europe||10 to 20 million|
|A5||UK||10 to 20 million|
|A6||North America||50 to 80 million|
|A7||UK||5 to 10 million|
|A11||Europe||50 to 80 million|
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Hemmings, P.; Mulheron, M.; Murphy, R.J.; Prescott, M. Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 Disruption on the Decarbonisation Agenda at Airports: Grounded or Ready for Take-Off? Sustainability 2021, 13, 12235. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132112235
Hemmings P, Mulheron M, Murphy RJ, Prescott M. Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 Disruption on the Decarbonisation Agenda at Airports: Grounded or Ready for Take-Off? Sustainability. 2021; 13(21):12235. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132112235Chicago/Turabian Style
Hemmings, Peter, Michael Mulheron, Richard J. Murphy, and Matt Prescott. 2021. "Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 Disruption on the Decarbonisation Agenda at Airports: Grounded or Ready for Take-Off?" Sustainability 13, no. 21: 12235. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132112235