The “Augmented” airport can drive the decarbonization path to a net-zero


Market watch, Responsible finance

The “Augmented” airport can drive the decarbonization path to a net-zero

  • 25 July 2023

  • Real Assets

  • Infrastructure, Sustainability

Reading time: 6 minutes

    To meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and reduce the impact of climate change, airports have to evaluate their long-term resilience and innovate to rethink their model. Airports’ license to operate requires them to accelerate their transition into “augmented” airports, able to create sustainable value and become a key catalyst for the aviation industry decarbonization.

    Airports have an essential role to play in the industry’s transition towards a net-zero aviation

    Airports have an essential role to play in the industry’s transition towards a net-zero aviation

    Airports are the place where all aviation stakeholders gather together: passengers, airlines, air traffic controllers, energy suppliers, aircraft manufacturers and other stakeholders from the local region. They hold a central and strategic position in the aviation value chain, which makes them the natural link within the sector enabling traffic and connectivity. As such, they are also a great playing field for the deployment of decarbonization solutions for the aviation industry. Therefore, they are a unique platform able to drive the path to net-zero aviation and foster the adoption of a systemic approach to climate change.

    As an investor, it is also one of Ardian’s duties to lay the groundwork for a solid ecosystem of stakeholders and to boost collaboration to make the decarbonization of aviation a system-wide reality.

    • 95 %

      of airport’s carbon footprint comes from indirect emissions

    • 99 %

      of the aviation emission comes from aircraft movements

    To do so, airports must focus on their scope 3 emissions which are the carbon emissions indirectly generated according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards, given that 95% of airports’ carbon footprint comes from those. This figure notably encompasses aircraft movements that are estimated to contribute to 99% of the emission of the sector. That is why airports can have such a structuring impact on the whole sector by addressing their scope 3 emissions that remain the key bottleneck to the decarbonization of the sector.

    Airports are the place where the aircraft is based and refueled, and also where passengers board. They have a central role to play in decarbonizing the sector, especially when adopting a systemic approach to the question, which we truly believe in at Ardian.

    Juan Angoitia, Co-Head of Infrastructure in Europe, Ardian

    To drive the industry decarbonization, airports have to accelerate their transition into “augmented” ones

    To drive the industry decarbonization, airports have to accelerate their transition into “augmented” ones

    Relying on a long-standing approach to sustainability, Ardian put forward its Augmented Infrastructure framework in 2018 to guide the transition of its assets from traditional infrastructures to augmented ones. Based on five strategic pillars, the framework enables new value creation for infrastructure which, applied to airports, particularly resonates with the urgent need to decarbonize aviation activities. “Augmented” airports are infrastructures fully prepared to serve the needs of users tomorrow as well as the collective imperative to reach net-zero.

    Open: Augmented airports are open to all kinds of technologies, interfacing and partnering with their local and global ecosystem of stakeholders, which enables them to accelerate their carbon emission reduction.
    This pillar is deeply linked to energy-related issues as airports will have to guarantee the supply of alternatives to kerosene fuel such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) or green hydrogen. For this purpose, SEA (Milan airports), has been collaborating with the Italian energy provider ENI to produce and supply “Biojet” fuel at airports soon. This initiative is expected to meet the forecasted requirements for the Italian market by 2025.

    An augmented airport is also open to all kinds of shared transportation connections to the surrounding environment. Electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (EVTOL), which do not emit CO2 during operations, are a solution to decarbonize first and last-mile travel. Hence, Ardian, through the 2i Aeroporti platform, invested in Skyports with the conviction that it is a crucial player to accelerate the electrification of air transport, starting with the development of Advanced Air Mobility infrastructures.

    Intelligent: Augmented airports exploit the full power of data to create efficiency gains, improve customer satisfaction and reduce their carbon emissions. They break down silos, which enables the sharing of an extensive amount of data between all players at the airport and the opportunity to convert them into actions.

    To tackle this technical issue, Ardian has co-developed Ardian Air Carbon with airports, a pioneering tool dedicated to monitoring airports’ scope 3 CO2 emissions. All airports in Ardian’s portfolio are now equipped with it and are able to build decarbonization trajectories to decrease their carbon emissions.

    Resilient: Augmented airports must be more independent regarding cyber threats and energy supply. To improve their resilience to shocks and changes, they should be able to produce and store their own energy on-site, reducing their dependency on external energy sources and vulnerability to energy disruption.

    Naples airport’s energy strategy is a case in point. With the on-site solar plant construction, Naples airport will increase its energy independence, generating 25% of its energy needs by 2025.

    • 25%

      of Naples airport's energy needs to be met by an on-site solar power plant by 2025

    Impactful: Augmented airports must have a direct impact on emissions, both locally and globally, given their unique position in the aviation ecosystem, and their strong territorial anchor. Market mechanisms can be a powerful way to accelerate the sustainable transition of a given industry.

    They can leverage competition like SEA’s (Milan airports) initiative to incentivize cleaner aircraft based on their carbon emissions as well as noise performance. Its “airport green charges” framework for transparent, non-discriminatory criteria to incentive low-carbon operations is currently under validation.

    Prolific: Augmented airports must adapt their model too, exploring new opportunities to create sustainable value. With airports' transition to net-zero comes additional prolific activities such as becoming energy and multi-modal hubs.

    As part of the TULIPS consortium, Torino Airport has planned to become a smart energy hub. Torino Airport will rely on a set of different energy sources like hydrogen or solar energy. With European and Italian regulators’ approval, “augmented” airports will be able to sell electricity and heat surplus to external partners within their surrounding environment.

    To reach a net-zero aviation, ecosystem stakeholders will need to act collectively, and start diversifying their activities. Through their strategic position at the core of the aviation value chain, airports have the power and the duty to drive the sector's transition.

    We believe in a new paradigm where augmented airports emerge as essential hubs for multimodal transport and renewable energy while remaining key players in the local economic development.

    Mathias Burghardt, Head of Infrastructure and Member of the Executive Committee, Ardian

    We suggest you to read or re-read our last articles of the ‘The Fight for a net-zero aviation’ serie:

    Ardian Air Carbon, here