Mongi Djouba
Directeur du segment Aéroport, BU Aviation
Published on February 15, 2019

Reading time : 5 min

Can smart airports have a form of environmental intelligence?

During the Assises de l’aéronautique et du développement durable (Aviation and Sustainable Development Summit), held in Toulouse in November last year, airport operators, industrial firms, architects and engineering firms discussed what a smart airport might look like, each contributing a point of view from their own speciality towards a multifaceted notion.

Smart Airport

- Crédits : © MasaoTaira - Thinkstock

To qualify as “smart”, the airport of the future must be capable of meeting three challenges: catering to the growth of air traffic, improving the passenger experience and safeguarding the profitability of the airport complex. Achieving this progress will largely involve a race to technology: connected devices which in the future will offer the chance of leveraging data to create new services for users.

These breakthroughs will undoubtedly lead to an enriched and simplified passenger experience, in particular with regard to baggage management, security checks or flight information, in an airport which is tending to become more of a destination in which to spend quality time rather than simply a place to pass through. It is also a source of valuable information which can be exchanged between operators, airlines, ground handling companies, to improve their operational efficiency, and the reliability and safety of premises. In a sector in which competition is fierce, the intention of airports is to seize this technological opportunity to improve their competitivity and their resilience.

A trend towards carbon accreditation

Considering today’s climate issues, can airports channel their actions towards more sustainability and environmental protection? Is their economic resilience incompatible with sustainable development? Although they are not the largest emitters of CO2 worldwide (0.1% of total emissions and 2 to 3% globally for air transport), their carbon footprint is substantial if we also include the energy consumption of buildings. Under the impetus of international organisations (ICAO) and governments, operators are thus introducing an array of initiatives, most of which focus on energy efficiency.

The key challenge for airports is to obtain a label or certification (ISO 14001, Airport Carbon Accreditation, LEED building) which they can promote to their stakeholders (in particular to delegating authorities), but also to the general public, to increase their appeal. Paris Airport thus aims to achieve carbon neutrality in 2030, and Toulouse airport is taking the same approach. Many French airports already hold this type of accreditation, at different levels of maturity, making France the country in the world with the most accredited airports in 2018. Elsewhere, the trend is similar, whether driven by political demands or created by private initiatives. This is a case for Abidjian Airport, which has become the first carbon neutral airport in Africa, and likewise for projects to renovate Indian airports (Lucknow, Pune, Trichy) for which the supervisory government body is aiming for carbon neutral design and operation standards. While these initiatives most often result from cost control concerns, they are nevertheless beneficial to the climate cause. This focus on profit, due to also being a lever by which to reduce ecological impact, is an opportunity that must be seized and pursued by giving it greater consistency and perspective: a role to which the engineer can relate.

Connecting with the community

While the Smart Airport seeks to use digital technology to improve the customer experience inside the terminal, its vision should not stop there. The customer experience begins and continues outside the airport; everything that the smart airport handles in terms of data should also interface with the passenger journey as a whole., i.e. with the city and its transport network, its optimised energy management, its services to inhabitants, etc. In short, the smart airport is not just a boarding terminal on the edge of the city: it should be capable of connecting up with the whole of its community.

Through coherent master plans, the integrated planning of low-energy and efficient infrastructure and the reasoned use of resources (local circuits), the engineer in their global approach can bring their client to consider solutions which, whilst maintaining the profitability of the airport, helps it to reduce its environmental footprint. The airport has this opportunity of becoming a laboratory for new technology and its role can be to give impetus to the community so that its initiative might be disseminated on a larger scale.

On this aspect, the airport can also act favourably upon its own reputation, shedding the perception of being a source of inconvenience and taking on the role of a veritable urban redevelopment, working for the benefit of populations and aware of its own impact. Only Smart Airports which are capable of fitting into this plan will be able to develop sustainably and continue to exist harmoniously in their environment.

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