Carbon hunting also happens on tarmacs - Companies

Carbon hunting also happens on tarmacs – Companies

Can airports be sustainable? Those of Zaventem, Liège and Charleroi multiply the announcements. But it is mainly flights that produce emissions.

Nicolas Thisquen, CEO of Sowaer, likes to talk about the plants and animals that inhabit the surroundings of the Liege Airport runways, such as the mountain jasione or the blue-winged grasshopper. “We are developing a late mowing technique which favors the environment, with extraordinary biodiversity. It is little known”, explains the boss of the Walloon public company which owns the airports of Liège and Charleroi, operated respectively by Liege Airport SA and Brussels South Charleroi Airport SA

Nicolas Thisquen, CEO of Sowaer, likes to talk about the plants and animals that inhabit the surroundings of the Liege Airport runways, such as the mountain jasione or the blue-winged grasshopper. “We are developing a late mowing technique which favors the environment, with extraordinary biodiversity. It is little known”, explains the boss of the Walloon public company which owns the airports of Liège and Charleroi, operated respectively by Liege Airport SA and Brussels South Charleroi Airport SA A few hundred meters from the hangars and the Liège tarmac, Sowaer is also developing an 18-hectare ecological corridor which will surround the perimeter of the airport facilities and the associated economic zones, except for the zone bordering the E42 motorway, to the south. . These projects are among the catalog of measures taken to make airports more sustainable. The announcements are multiplying in Zaventem, Liège, Charleroi. Airports and airlines have committed to becoming zero carbon by 2050. They are also seeking to make themselves more acceptable to local residents. The terms “airport” and “sustainable” nevertheless seem contradictory. Nicolas Thisquen is aware of this. When he talks about biodiversity projects and ecological corridors around the tracks, he says himself: “We are not believed”. Indeed, “this kind of project remains anecdotal compared to the overall assessment”, retorts Olivier Bierin, Walloon Ecolo deputy. He agrees that airports, as such, can go carbon-free: “Many do so in part through carbon offsets, through participation in reforestation projects. But that’s negligible compared to aircraft emissions, which represent 99% of air transport emissions”. The elected official cites a study carried out by Pierre Ozer, professor at ULiège, who calculated that taking into account the emissions of flights departing from Liège actually partially ruins the efforts to reduce emissions throughout Wallonia. Brussels Airport has made an announcement that tries to respond to this remark. The operator has launched a European project, Startgate, supported by the European Commission as part of the Green Deal. He leads a consortium including airports (Athens, Toulouse-Blagnac, Budapest), airlines (Brussels Airlines, TUI, DHL Aviation in particular) and universities (Hasselt, Rotterdam). The Commission will pay 24.8 million euros, the partners (especially Brussels Airport), around ten million. The most visible element of Stargate is a factory project to produce less emitting fuel, a mixture of kerosene and biofuel which will be consumed in Zaventem by the member companies of the consortium. “If the results are good, this type of installation could be extended to partner airports, then to others, explains Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport. We will undoubtedly be the first to have our own factory on the site. ” This kind of fuel is still rare in planes, for lack of supply. But also because of its high price. However, the European Commission is considering obliging carriers to use a proportion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), either biofuel or electrofuels. The Stargate project includes other elements, such as the use of electric vehicles on the tarmac by DHL, or the study of the noise reduction of reactor tests at Zaventem airport. “When they are repaired, you have to try them, it’s noisy”, continues Arnaud Feist, who adds: “We are a zero carbon airport, partly through offsets, but we hope to become one without offsets”. It is difficult to talk about durability without talking about noise, which bothers local residents. To reduce it, some neighbors would prefer that activity be limited, capped. However, the opposite option prevails. Zaventem, Charleroi and Liège airports are all following a growth strategy. In the first two, this growth has certainly been interrupted by the pandemic, but it remains a long-term objective. And in Liège, especially oriented towards freight, the covid has boosted traffic. Arnaud Feist disputes that this growth is harmful. “New aircraft like the Boeing 737 Max or the Airbus A320 Neo consume significantly less than their predecessors. And before the covid crisis, we had recorded 45% more passengers for 10 years while the number of aircraft movements remained stable. Nuisances have decreased for local residents.” Brussels Airport also charges the noisiest aircraft fees three times higher than normal, and intends to increase to 20 times from 2023. Nicolas Thisquen recalls that in Wallonia, the development of airports is accompanied by environmental measures. “This is the choice that was made from the start: for every euro invested in airports, another is invested in the environment.” And this essentially in order to help local residents affected by noise. The authorities in particular calm local residents with a Noise Exposure Plan (PEB) which defines, according to the level recorded, the most affected areas. The inhabitants concerned can then have their homes bought back or benefit from soundproofing. “The areas covered are reviewed every three years, depending on noise measurements. There has been no change for the first reviews, there will probably be for the fifth, which is in progress”, adds the CEO of the Sowaer. These expenses mainly concern the area around Liège airport, which is open at night (Charleroi is closed from 11 p.m. to 6.30 a.m.). A network of sensors was also recently added to measure air quality. “The result is neither better nor worse than that of a city, assures Nicolas Thisquen. An airplane does not pollute more than automobiles in a built-up area.” But the reactions of local residents are not weakening. “This year, we have exceeded 1,000 complaints at Liege Airport”, admits Nicolas Thisquen. A push that he attributes to more frequent changes in the direction of the wind, which modifies the path of the planes. Residents located outside the areas covered by the PEB are then inconvenienced. “But we have far fewer complaints than in Zaventem”, consoles the CEO. If they create local political friction, these complaints do not call into question the development strategy. For two decades, the parties of the successive majorities in power in the Region have always supported airports, considered as economic poles. These generate a lot of jobs: more than 14,000 currently, probably more in the future. And if Ecolo is reluctant, he does not make it a casus belli within the current executive in which he participates. “Every year, 80 to 100 million subsidies are paid by the Region to airports, otherwise they would be in net loss”, however tackles Olivier Bierin. The Green deputy judges the environmental policy “expensive and ineffective”, regretting that the penalties for exceeding the noise ceilings are weakly sanctioned, and that noisy planes do not pay a more expensive fee, as in Zaventem. However, the sector has made some progress. In particular with the practice of “green landings”, where the aircraft remains at altitude longer and descends continuously, instead of performing this maneuver in levels and occasionally giving the gas. Consumption, emissions and noise are reduced. In 2020, 77.7% of landings at Brussels Airport followed this procedure, 71.4% at Liège Airport, and 51.3% at Brussels South Charleroi Airport. Note that the latter is currently more discreet about his “sustainable” projects. The operator is struggling in the crisis caused by the pandemic, awaiting the green light from the European Commission for its bailout. However, it has just announced the creation of a coordination body between airport stakeholders (companies, companies on the site such as Sabca, Skyes, Sowaer) to achieve a series of environmental objectives. This type of body has existed for a few years in Zaventem and Liège.

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