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View from India: Airport sustainability is a journey

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Airport operators of the Delhi International Airport Limited and Mumbai International Airport Limited have chalked out a slew of measures to be net-zero carbon emission airports.

The aviation industry attributes about 2.5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Though the pandemic has made a dent in business, still airports in India are undertaking green initiatives to become sustainable. Stakeholders of aviation and airports are interlinked through complex processes: many functions require carbon-neutral measures and emission-reduction strategies, hence it’s only appropriate that airport operations scale-up operational efficiencies and adopt new technologies for improving air navigation. Fuel-efficient procedures are being implemented. The investments in emission-reduction initiatives and energy-efficient measures are part of the long-term growth.

“As part of our sustainability practices, we have put up solar panels and parallel runways in our airports. Social, environmental, economic and leadership form the core of our sustainability practices,” said Dr M Muthukrishnan, head of EHS and Sustainability, Airport Sector, GMR Group. The Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport is operated by the Delhi International Airport Limited, a public-private consortium led by the GMR Group.

Where caution needs to be exercised is in aviation's direct and indirect emissions, along with its energy emissions. All this contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. “In 2016, the IGI Airport was the first in Asia Pacific to become a Level 4+ (Transition) accredited airport under the Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme. Our goal is to achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2030,” added Muthukrishnan. The IGI airport, which is characterised by green infrastructure, will further be scaled-up to meet the upcoming target. Minimal energy initiatives are already happening: the company has worked out airport operational excellence measures by synchronising arrival-departure of flights as far as possible; electricity consumption during flight delays is lowered; a shift from petrol-diesel fuel to renewable is also happening. All these measures help lower the carbon footprint and are being achieved through scalable technology. Tech-based innovation is the way ahead for airport management and infrastructure.

“Airport sustainability needs to be viewed as a journey that gives opportunities to create economic-social-environmental goals and work towards it. As airport operators, we look at long-term measures for sustainability,” added Prabhat Mahapatra, executive vice president of Operations, Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL). A joint venture between the GVK-led consortium and Airports Authority of India, MIAL was mandated to modernise and upgrade Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.

Sustainability practices are incorporated right from the conception stage to execution. “The green airport concept is being adopted and we are working towards net-zero carbon emission,” assured Mahapatra. The carbon-accreditation journey began around seven years ago. Strategically, an 'airport collaborative decision-making' procedure has been worked out to improve the flow of air traffic along with capacity management. Measures are taken to ensure that travellers’ occupancy time in the terminals is reduced and the waiting time of the taxis too is lowered. The database of the airport operations works as an effective tool for airport collaborative decision making. Digital clearance delivery to flights is also part of the agenda. The design of the water system is executed to lower wastage of water. In terms of renewable energy, solar panels are on the rooftop of the airport, while MIAL is piloting a project on hybrid energy to replace the usage of conventional energy. It also intends to achieve large-scale recycling through dry-wet waste segregation. Digitisation is the backbone of the sustainability initiatives and data analysis helps in lowering carbon footprint.

Customarily, when travellers are heading to the airport they see the air traffic control (ATC) towers from afar; ATC is an indication that they are coming close to the airport. In years to come, the ATC towers in the airports of Delhi and Mumbai may become symbols of the past. The purpose of the ATC tower remains the same, except that they don’t need to be physically erected: their function will be executed digitally and from remote locations in another means of lowering the carbon footprint. 

These insights were discussed at a webinar hosted by CII in association with Schneider Electric on Sustainable and Resilient Airports of Tomorrow, where industry experts shared insights on ways to decode greener ways to power infrastructures and build sustainable airport infrastructure that can stand the test of unprecedented times. 

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