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Transforming airports to fuel sustainable aviation

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More than 50 CEOs have joined forces to place airports at the centre of sustainable aviation Image: Unsplash

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Financing The Airports Of Tomorrow: A Green Transition Toolkit

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  • Sustainable aviation is possible with the right investments in green energy and new infrastructure.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Airports of Tomorrow initiative seeks to overhaul global airports for net-zero aviation by mobilizing the capital needed to transform airports into clean energy hubs.
  • The initiative enables airports to harness the power of new technologies such as hydrogen and battery electric flight, sustainable aviation fuels, and the electrification of airport operations.

The impact of placing airports at the core of sustainable aviation.

Staying on track to net zero by 2050 requires a formidable effort from major emitting industries, including aviation. Decarbonizing the industry requires large-scale technological advancement in green energy provision, but airports need to be equipped.

Led by the World Economic Forum and Airports Council International, the Airports of Tomorrow initiative is tackling the structural challenges and barriers to making the 2050 goal a reality. More than 50 CEOs have joined forces to transform airports into clean energy hubs.

From equipment manufacturers and fuel producers to engineering firms and airports, partners include Airbus, Arup, Boeing, Dallas Fort Worth, Dufry, LanzaJet, London Heathrow, Mundys Aeroporti di Roma, and Neste.

"It is an exciting time for airports: the energy transition presents them with an opportunity to lead and change the future of aviation for the better. Airports of Tomorrow will equip airports with the right tools to lead the sustainable transition needed to accommodate the growth of passenger traffic, expected to reach 19.3 billion passengers by 2041."

Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director-General, Airports Council International

What's the challenge in decarbonizing aviation?

The aviation industry is accountable for 2.5% of total CO2 emissions. It is, therefore, central to global decarbonization efforts.

Airports are at the core of the complex supply chain that keeps aviation moving, contributing to around 3% of the industry’s total emissions. Their stakeholders include everyone who uses, works at or lives near them, and the businesses that serve them – including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, fuel producers, and ground-handling service providers.

This access to all main industry actors means that airports have a key role to play in mobilizing holistic action towards net-zero aviation. But this will require significant investment – approximately $175 billion per year, reaching $5 trillion by 2050 – to enable the transition to emerging technologies and alternative propulsion methods, such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and battery-electric- or hydrogen-powered flight.

Airports will need to invest $100 billion to build the infrastructure necessary for hydrogen and electric flight. In addition, several billion more are needed to electrify their ground-handling operations, improve building energy efficiency, and construct renewable energy generation.

Our approach to sustainable aviation.

Converting airports into green energy hubs that serve an interconnected array of stakeholders and functions will require massive on- and off-site infrastructure changes. The energy needs from electricity will be an estimated five-fold requirement compared to today’s propulsion methods.

Airports of Tomorrow is addressing the new infrastructure requirements for the energy transition. It brings together government leaders, climate experts and chief executives from the aviation, energy, construction and finance sectors who agree on the urgent need to reach net zero.

The initiative aims to maximize the potential for airports to be vehicles for economic growth and environmental prosperity through four pillars:

  • Infrastructure: Anticipating airports’ future needs; producing, distributing and storing hydrogen and renewable energy on airport grounds.
  • Sustainable aviation fuel and Scope 3 emissions: Focusing on the scale-up of at least 300 SAF plants by 2030.
  • Financing: Working on de-risking and upscaling innovative sustainable finance solutions for airports.
  • Blue Skies Pioneers: Partnering with UpLink to create a start-up challenge inviting new innovative firms to join the Forum community.

"If the right planning and investment decisions are made today, airports can play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future for aviation as well as other transport sectors. The Airports of Tomorrow initiative will help airports harness these opportunities, enabling them to fulfil their potential as clean energy hubs and standard-bearers for the net-zero economy."

Lauren Uppink, Head, Climate Strategy, World Economic Forum

Airports of Tomorrow consolidates the aviation decarbonization work previously done by the Forum through its Clean Skies for Tomorrow and Target True Zero initiatives under one umbrella. It provides a platform for both public and private stakeholders to address the energy, infrastructure and financing needs of the aviation industry's transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

How can you get involved?

The Airports of Tomorrow is an initiative of the Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate. Companies are invited to join the centre to share their expertise, participate in projects and help accelerate aviation’s decarbonization journey.

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