Milwaukee — At the 17th annual Environmental Management Conference hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives here in June, all the usual issues came up — air and water quality, recycling and waste management, deicing, and reducing carbon footprints. Still, as they have been of late, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprints, and alternative fuels were the stars of the show.
Kicking off the conference was a panel of representatives from Airports Council International-North America, the Air Transport Association, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
Jessica Steinhilber, director of environmental affairs at ACI-NA, says the association’s environmental affairs committee is broken out into working groups, all of which remain busy.
On waste management, Steinhilber says, the working group is working with the Environmental Protection Agency as they come up with a recycling document, with a focus on helping the EPA understand the airport industry and what impacts changes from the document might have on the industry.
She says the Federal Drug Administration is also in the process of setting up a database with airports to improve their watering points and let airlines know where they can get their water from.
Another focus, Steinhilber says, is to increase the relationship between the environmental and small airports committees. While many smaller airports want to be green, she says, and are pressured to be green by local interests, they often lack the resources and personnel to follow through on such efforts. The committees are working to identify things that smaller airports will be able to put into action.
Steinhilber also says the air quality working group is working with the EPA on general conformity — revisions were proposed early this year, she says, and ACI-NA has submitted comments. Overall ACI-NA is supportive of the document as proposed, and sees it as beneficial to industry.
Tim Pohle, counsel of environmental affairs for ATA, says that not surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions is the overwhelming issue facing the group, due to the impact it will have on the airline industry.
Pohle said that proposed legislation on greenhous gas emissions would end up costing U.S. carriers $5 million a year in 2012, with that number growing thereafter — which would be in addition to costs already incurred today.
“The legislation basically functions as a fuel tax on our industry,” Pohle comments.
“The most important thing we need to educate people on is, that to create a system where we’re essentially taxed drains resources from our industry and takes away from our ability to improve fuel efficiency.”
Pohle says significant progress has been made in the past few decades, and proposed legislation would impede on that progress.
In the meantime, Pohle says, there are plenty of opportunities for airlines and airports to work together to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint. To help this process along, he says, the two need to reinforce incentives and receive mutual recognition and benefits from achieving those reductions.
Pohle cites recycling as one example — if airports let airlines get involved on those kinds of initiatives, it will help airlines get some of the credit, both in terms of public relations and monetarily. He says the same can be done with greenhouse gas emissions.
Overall, Pohle advocates collaboration over just setting rules. He says airlines appreciate information provided by airports on greenhouse gas inventories, which can be used for meaningful policies. Rules, on the other hand, add to the burden, without taking into account the ultimate impact to the industry.
Overall, he says, environmental projects need to take business and economics into account, rather than just good public relations.
“We are operating in this overall context of a very uncertain future,” Pohle says. “If anything is to guide us going forward in each and every one of these issues, it is to start not thinking so much in terms of green for the sake of green and doing projects because it looks good.”
The Jury is Still Out ... But Not for Long
Among the adopted goals, ACI-NA announced that half of its member airports will strive to provide low-emission vehicle support infrastructure by 2019.
GAMA and other groups recognize obligation to further limit aviation's greenhouse gas emissions.