The Vail Valley Jet Center (VVJC), owned and operated by FBO network Signature Aviation, has achieved carbon neutrality for its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions generated by equipment, fleet vehicles and buildings. The accomplishment is a key step in Signature's journey to fulfil its commitment to attain a net-zero operational footprint by 2050, serving as an exploration into the tactics and strategies that can be implemented throughout the company's global private aviation terminal network. The Eagle County Regional airport location in Colorado is serving as an innovation testbed as it tracks the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions.
Signature's Eagle location started its journey toward carbon neutrality in January 2022 by following the company's protocols to audit and monitor emissions of all its facilities and equipment. The audit established the baseline carbon footprint that led to three strategies: on site solar, procurement of renewable energy through local utilities and electrification of its vehicle fleet.
Building upon these strategies, the VVJC implemented over 10 energy efficiency programmes:
- Joined Holy Cross Energy's PURE programme in July to be supplied with renewable energy
- Began contributing to local housing electrification through Energy Smart Colorado
- Installed solar to eliminate the need for utility-supplied electricity
- Electrified over 50 per cent of the location's ground support equipment and upgraded to low emission vehicles to achieve a 150 metric tonne reduction in CO2
- Installed HVAC interlocks on 11 hangars, pausing climate controls when the doors are open
- Replaced 584 traditional lights with LED lighting throughout its campus, reducing energy use by 65-75 per cent over traditional metal halide and high-pressure sodium lighting
- Installed lighting motion sensors in restrooms, offices and storage areas
- Insulated hangar doors and added interior roof insulation
- Utilised B20 biodiesel in all diesel-powered equipment
- Ordered two new fully electric aircraft refuelling trucks with delivery anticipated in late 2022, making Signature among the first in the industry to use this type of equipment
- Purchased offsets from the Somerset Mine in the western Colorado town of Somerset
The largest challenge was modifying VVJC's ground service equipment fleet to include 50 per cent electric-only vehicles. Despite significant supply chain challenges, the investment in new equipment will result in a 15 per cent reduction in fossil-fuel emissions. The fleet upgrades include six new Rampmaster 5,000 gallon aircraft refuelling trucks, which will consume 40 per cent less diesel fuel than the 1990s vintage trucks they will replace (three refuelling trucks have already been delivered, with the rest to be delivered in December 2022); six electric Club Car Transporter golf carts, replacing 1990s era gas-powered golf carts; and an electric lavatory cart, an electric fork-lift, a Tesla Model Y for use by visiting aircraft crews and an electric belt loader that displaces its gas-powered predecessors.
“Our team has risen to the challenge of accomplishing the wide variety of tasks associated with implementing this programme,” says VVJC president and general manager Paul Gordon. “We are proud of reaching this goal for our airport and our community.”
One of the supporters is Eagle County's Walking Mountains Science Center, which is Energy Smart Colorado's local partner assisting with implementation of the offset programme.
“Achieving our ambitious net-zero goal will require significant changes to the way we operate,” adds Signature Aviation director of environment and sustainability programmes Heather Frost. “The success achieved at the VVJC has educated us on holistic sustainability and established a model for Signature's efforts to decarbonise the private aviation industry.”
In August 2022, VVJC celebrated another significant achievement, becoming the first FBO in the US to achieve NATA's highest environmental certification for sustainable operations in the business aviation industry, outpacing thousands of private aviation service providers globally. Those VVJC sustainability efforts have already had the effect of removing 678 metric tonnes of CO2 annually from Colorado skies.
The Eagle County facility's accomplishment is part of Signature Aviation's 2020 worldwide commitment to become net-zero for Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050, in alignment with a science-driven climate framework. That includes a 29 per cent reduction in GHGs by 2025 and a 50 per cent reduction by 2030. As of the end of 2021, Signature was ahead of its near-term target of 29 per cent reduction by 2025.
The aviation industry is still working to overcome the most significant source of CO2 creation within the sector, namely emissions from aircraft fuel, also referred to as Scope 3 emissions. This is a major challenge to aircraft operators becoming net zero because of the limited availability of carbon-intensity-reducing SAF and a cautious regulatory environment.
Signature is already the private aviation industry's largest provider of SAF, having delivered over 15 million gallons to its customers to date. Its FBO in San Francisco, California has converted its entire fuel supply to SAF, and Signature Aviation offers the fuel for purchase at 18 additional locations in the US and UK.
Furthermore, Signature's Eagle County location began refuelling aircraft with sustainable aviation fuel sourced from renewable feedstock in spring 2022, empowering customers to reduce the emissions generated by their own aircraft. Sustainable aviation fuel gallons pumped in Eagle County follow an independently audited certification process to track their carbon reductions.