Sunday, September 24, 2023
CommentaryDecarbonizing operations is not a luxury

Decarbonizing operations is not a luxury

The COP27 meeting this month serves as a stark reminder to the aviation industry of its obligation to act more quickly in response to climate change.

It has been a year since the aviation industry committed to reducing emissions through its long-term carbon net-zero by 2050 goal, and the urgency of meeting that target was recently highlighted by climate protestors rushing Schipol Airport’s runway. We can’t just talk about sustainability.

The industry’s carbon net-zero pledge is a massive undertaking. Except for operational and infrastructure improvements, we know that all of the in-sector emission reduction solutions—sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), new zero-emission energy sources, and new technology aircraft—will not be fully implemented this decade.

But we can’t wait a decade to do everything at once. To implement a clear path to decarbonization, we must incorporate it into normal operations immediately.

It cannot be a ‘nice-to-have’ or an optional feature. We know that airports and airlines can reduce emissions in small and incremental ways by leveraging technology to improve operational and infrastructure efficiencies.

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What you can do right now

Reduced use of fossil fuels in operations is critical to the industry’s carbon net-zero strategy, as fuel burn accounts for the majority of emissions. Fuel is one of the most expensive expenses for airlines today, so efforts to reduce fossil fuel use will naturally reduce emissions while also generating significant cost savings.

To reduce reliance on fossil fuels in flight operations, traditional and emerging fuel-efficiency technologies that integrate data intelligence can be easily adopted today.

Prescriptive in-flight efficiency solutions that use machine learning and leverage historical flight and weather data to empower airline pilots to make more informed, optimized re-routing decisions are an example of these intelligent technologies in action. It provides multiple benefits while reducing fossil fuel consumption: cleaner air, lower costs, and carbon savings.

By utilizing these technologies, our customers are already significantly reducing their carbon footprint. Singapore Airlines, for example, used SITA OptiClimb® to reduce aircraft carbon emissions by up to 15,000 tons per year during the climb-out phase of the carrier’s Airbus A350 fleet.

The immediate focus of an in-flight efficiency tool is on reducing fossil fuel consumption, emissions, and costs. However, as airlines transition to sustainable aviation fuels, the emphasis will shift to optimizing sustainable fuels from a cost perspective.

Infrastructure improvements rely on better integration between stakeholders

We know that when intelligence is shared with relevant stakeholders, such as those involved in supporting infrastructure systems such as air traffic management and airport operations, the benefits will be even greater.

While SITA OptiClimb® and the broader SITA OptiFlight® solution began as in-flight applications for airline pilots to optimize aircraft flight phases, we can now extend them to air traffic controllers to facilitate greater collaboration between airlines and air navigation service providers.

This more holistic approach makes it easier for controllers to approve pilot requests for more optimal re-routing recommendations, which reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and costs.

Airports, as key players in the air transport ecosystem, are beginning to take a more direct role in reducing emissions by reducing the fossil fuel energy use associated with airside operations—specifically, the landing, takeoff, taxi, and turnaround cycles—which typically account for the majority of an airport’s local emissions (Scope 3 for airports, Scope 1 for airlines).

Like airlines, airports are investing in business intelligence solutions, with Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) and flight operations being the top application areas, according to our latest SITA Air Transport IT Insights.

Airport stakeholders, such as ground handlers, airline partners, and air traffic management, benefit from the real-time data and insights provided by A-CDM technology. It has been shown to reduce costly delays and disruptions that increase carbon emissions.

While it began as a European initiative, the industry-acclaimed Waypoint 2050 report says it is a practical emission-reduction opportunity for airports worldwide this decade. A-CDM technology is gaining popularity in both developed and developing markets. El Dorado International Airport (BOG), for example, will be the first in Latin America to implement A-CDM using our ground-breaking SITA Collaborative Decision Making technology.

We anticipate that more will follow.

SITA is collaborating with the industry to navigate the net-zero by 2050 journey. Today’s technology will not fully address air transport’s wider sustainability challenge. However, a genuine commitment to doing things differently and taking concrete steps to decarbonize operations today will contribute to the development of a more sustainable industry.

 (Yann Cabaret is the CEO of SITA for Aircraft.)

Contributed by Yann Cabaret

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