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Côte d'Azur unveils ten year greenhouse plan
A carbon-zero programme from Aéroports de la Côte d'Azur is the continuation of its numerous commitments and significantly speeds up its schedule: Carbon zero by 2030 is now deemed possible.

The Aéroports de la Côte d'Azur group, France's first 100 per cent carbon-neutral airport group, has been implementing a policy to reduce its environmental footprint for more than 15 years, and has revealed a programme to emit zero greenhouse gases, without any compensation, 20 years earlier than was previously intended. It also means to show the way forward to the entire aeronautical sector by proposing measures to limit the impact of air transport.

The group is introducing a series of measures to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions at the three airports it operates: Nice Côte d'Azur, Cannes Mandelieu and Golfe de Saint-Tropez. While the group had already joined 192 European airports in June 2019 in setting the 2050 deadline, it has now revealed the steps required to achieve this target in just 10 years.

This programme has been welcomed by Solar Impulse Foundation founder and president Doctor Bertrand Piccard, who says: “I admire companies that spontaneously set themselves ambitious targets. Faced with the slow pace of international negotiations, this is the best way to make progress towards environmental protection. By aiming to achieve zero net emissions by 2030 at the latest, Aéroports de la Côte d'Azur has become a pioneer and set an example for the world of aviation. Aéroports de la Côte d'Azur intends to reach its goal as quickly as possible by calling on solutions labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation, such as the contract signed recently with Antismog.”

Each of the three airports will advance at their own pace, due to their own different circumstances. Golfe de Saint-Tropez airport, which has been carbon-neutral since 2018, will produce zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by further cutting its emissions and by installing a carbon well on site that will absorb the 23 tonnes of CO2 equivalent of residual emissions. What is more, by continuing these efforts, the platform will become a net absorber of 2.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2022, and of 21 tonnes by 2034. In this way, the airport will continue to contribute to the conservation of the region by absorbing the emissions from aircraft in the approach, taxiing and take off phases, that are not actually included in the scope of emissions directly imputable to the platform.

Cannes Mandelieu airport will follow the same roadmap, with five emission reduction stages leading up to the 2030 zero emissions target. From 2034, the platform will even be able to absorb at least 14 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

Nice Côte d'Azur airport is facing an even tougher challenge. As passenger numbers continue to rise year on year, it has become France's second largest airport, behind the Paris hub, and opens new short, medium and long haul connections every year. Nice Côte d'Azur has already slashed its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent in 10 years, and became France's first carbon neutral airport in 2016. “Today, passengers passing through our terminals account for hardly 100 grams of CO2, which is 92 per cent less than the average of European airports,” explains head of sustainable development and the environment Isabelle Vandrot. “This figure represents a record and an incentive to do even better. But these last few grams are the most difficult to eliminate, because they bring us face to face with technical or technological barriers that must be raised if we are to achieve our goal of zero grams of emissions in just 10 years.”

In 2020, the airport will have reduced its emissions by 83 per cent by electrifying 80 per cent of its service vehicles, then by 86 per cent in 2021, by making its freight terminal and technical centre gas-free. The gradual withdrawal of gas from all the buildings, the development of photovoltaic panels or the decarbonisation of special machinery will all help the airport to achieve its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. What is more, the airport intends to extend its efforts beyond its scope of action by installing carbon wells that will make it an absorber of the CO2 emitted by the aircraft using the airport by 2034.

Broadly engaging the entire air transport sector is the issue that the group wants to address. “Taking action to reduce our own environmental footprint to zero is meaningless, unless emissions are reduced along the entire chain. Reducing emissions in the approach, taxiing and take-off phases is an important step. This is what we call the LTO cycle”, says chairman of the board Dominique Thillaud. “At Nice airport, this cycle represents 10.75 kg of CO2 per passenger. This is the carbon balance of a single tropical mango, for example. Over the last five years, this figure has dropped by 20 per cent, while the number of aircraft using the airport has increased by 2.5 per cent during the same period. This shows that it is possible to increase traffic and to decrease emissions at the same time. This is encouraging, and we want to go further and faster.”

Thus the group has presented a series of what it calls concrete measures that can be taken immediately in order to reduce the environmental impact of the aviation sector.

On the one hand, measures for all airports include making universal use of 400Hz gangways that supply electricity to the parked aircraft, so that the onboard equipment can be used without running the noisy and polluting auxiliary engines, and of pop-out electricity supply terminals for aircraft parked on the apron. There must be a move to 100 per cent electric vehicle fleets, and airports should sign electricity supply contracts with a green and locally-sourced energy guarantee; support the creation and development of a soft mobility offer to connect the airport to its surroundings; prepare for the arrival of a sustainable aviation fuel offer on the market; and join the Airport Carbon Accreditation initiative to achieve carbon neutrality.

“Our approach may appear to be highly virtuous, but it amounts to the simple application of obvious common sense,” claims Thillaud. “In Nice, the electricity supplied to all our gangways and pop-outs is green. We funded the extension of the tram lines to our terminals and we introduced a fully electric passenger shuttle service. We have been neutral since 2016 and we will meet the 2030 deadline.”

One the other hand, airlines should systematically follow the single engine taxi procedure, which halves emissions when taxiing; promote sustainable aviation fuel; replace the notion of economic competitive performance with that of ecological competitive performance by introducing two measures, under the authority of the State; and modulate the 'eco-contribution' tax applied to tickets into and out of domestic airports in favour of those airports that are already carbon-neutral, within a 10 per cent to 50 per cent bracket. This measure would constitute a criterion of ecological competitive performance for airlines and a target for airports that are not yet carbon-neutral. It would produce immediate benefits for passengers and the surrounding regions.

Airports should also adjust fees according to the actual environmental footprint of each type of aircraft. In this way, airlines would be incentivised to renew their fleets and to invest in aircraft like the A321neo, which consumes an average of just 1.9 litres of aviation fuel per 100 km per passenger. These measures are inciting, rather than punitive, prompting action instead of levies.

“These two levers are already available and they are based on reality: ranges of aircraft designed to achieve a level of energy efficiency close to that of hybrid cars, and airports like Nice, one of the busiest in Europe, that has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent and become carbon-neutral,” concludes Thillaud. “The notion of ecological performance represents a new vision of the economics of the aviation sector that will speed up both R&D and the conservation of our regions.”

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