Making Australia’s airports greener

Adelaide Airport Sustainability Manager, Leigh Gapp.

Adelaide Airport Sustainability
Manager, Leigh Gapp.

In recent years, airports have come under a higher level of scrutiny for their operations as the community and industry moves towards being more sustainable. In response, Adelaide Airport has placed a strong emphasis on sustainability and was recognised for its efforts by Airport Councils International (ACI) Asia-Pacific Green Airports Recognition initiative. Here’s how the airport achieved its industry recognition and some of its current sustainability projects including ‘cool’ pavements, airside irrigation, SMART building analytics and terminal waste recycling.

Sustainability journey

Like most Australian airports, Adelaide Airport has undergone considerable transformation since privatisation over the past two decades with the opening of its new domestic and international terminal in 2005, and significant passenger growth and the development of new infrastructure. This is set to continue at an increasing pace, with air travel forecast to double over the next 20 years.

Adelaide Airport is currently undertaking a $165 million expansion of its main terminal to significantly upgrade international arrivals and departures, and create more retail and dining options for both domestic and international travellers in response to this growth.

The expansion will significantly improve the arrivals and departures experience for international passengers, with improved screening and expanded dining and retail options. The retail areas will be expanded and refurbished throughout the terminal, resulting in a more than 80 per cent increase in the overall size of the terminal’s retail and dining precinct across domestic and international areas.

Adelaide Airport Managing Director, Mark Young, said ensuring that this growth was achieved in a sustainable way was at the top of the airport’s agenda.

“Adelaide Airport is about connecting South Australia. Our vision is to be a top tier airport business in Asia Pacific, recognised for delivering exceptional outcomes to our customers, partners, shareholders and community. This highlights our approach to delivering long–term value to all stakeholders,” Mr Young said.

“This vision and approach is underpinned by the recognition that creating long–term shareholder value is inextricably linked to, not at the expense of, creating value for other stakeholders.

“Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL) has had a long–term commitment to all pillars of sustainability. In recent years, we have recast our language around what sustainability means to explicitly connect the full spectrum of Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) factors and tie these into our financial and operational considerations.

“We are aware that this is a journey and believe the value placed on sustainability helps our business to respond to, and get ahead of, the complex social, environmental, market and technological influences that we operate within.”

Adelaide Airport has a solid track record in sustainability, achieving sector leader status on the global sustainability benchmark GRESB in both 2017 and 2018.

Adelaide was also the first Australian airport to achieve level 3 (optimisation) under Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation program and secured Platinum awards for its waste program and SMART building analytics initiative in the Airport Council International – Asia Pacific Green Airports Recognition in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Current projects and initiatives

Adelaide Airport Sustainability Manager, Leigh Gapp, said the current focus was on reducing carbon emissions, understanding and adapting to the effects of climate change and addressing the waste challenge inherent with large multi-user infrastructure assets such as terminal buildings.

“We have a number of interesting projects and initiatives underway to address and manage these challenges, including the implementation of a SMART building analytics initiative, airside irrigation and ‘cool’ pavement trials, and terminal lease agreements that require tenants to transition to compostable food service ware and recycle,” Mr Gapp said.

SMART building analytics

Consistent with most airports, the majority of energy at Adelaide Airport is consumed by terminal buildings. Outside air temperature is the biggest influence on how much energy Terminal 1 (the main terminal) consumes (81 per cent determinant), through demands placed on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

With the addition of a $165 million extension, and the prospect of climate change driving hotter, drier summers that will drive HVAC assets to work harder, Adelaide Airport’s facilities maintenance and sustainability departments teamed together in early 2018 to look to emerging Australian Prop-Tech Innovations to identify new innovations that deliver a greater environmental impact for a more cost-effective outlay.

A mobile phone-sized data acquisition device has been installed on the building management network which allows the platform to scan every pump, fan and valve across Terminal 1, every 15 minutes, instantly detecting, diagnosing and prioritising live faults for onsite teams to fix, ensuring emissions-saving opportunities will be achieved within days, not months or years.

The most complex of faults that are contributing to higher emissions are now being identified in real time. Teams are being notified of where to go and how to fix them as they occur. Live emissions saving potential is now being ranked across the terminal, allowing maintenance activity to be prioritised and directed based on maximum emissions reduction.

Irrigation and ‘cool’ pavement trails

Adelaide Airport and SA Water have been running a trial using stormwater to irrigate a four-hectare site within the airport boundary to understand the potential benefits that maintaining appropriate vegetative cover and reducing surface and air temperatures can provide airport operations. The trial has been running since 2015 and the data collected to date has demonstrated that irrigation can lead to an air temperature reduction of over 3°C on hot days when compared with non–irrigated areas.

Temperature significantly influences aircraft performance including fuel use, thrust requirements and the capacity to carry passengers and freight. The impact of extreme heat on aircraft and airport operations was demonstrated in the US city of Phoenix in 2017 when 48.3C temperatures saw airlines cancel and reschedule flights because of difficulties taking off. Whilst Phoenix was an extreme example, there are incremental impacts on fuel use and passenger and freight loads as temperatures increase to this point.

“When the Adelaide Airport trial first started it was really aimed at cooling the air to reduce the strain on the terminal HVAC systems. However, as the trial proceeded, it became evident that the potential benefits to aircraft performance could be significant,” Mr Gapp said.

“We are now commencing the second phase of this project, which includes the expansion of the trial area to a seven-hectare site and further research into the extent of cooling required (horizontal and vertical) to impact on aircraft performance and to quantify the potential benefits to aircraft performance from this cooling.

Mr Gapp said they are also looking at other ways to mitigate the urban heat island effect and reduce local temperatures, including investigating the use of ‘cool’ pavement applications.

“Our airport engineer Jessica Westthorp is undertaking a trial with a lighter coloured Fuel Resistant Membrane (FRM). This product is traditionally a black pavement protection application, but we identified that areas treated with the application were hotspots often prone to damage, such as rutting, and so started looking at what we could do to address this.

“Our initial research indicated that lighter coloured pavements can reduce surface temperature up to somewhere near 30°C, which can translate to a reduction in ambient temperature of around 2°C. Through monitoring both the impact on ambient temperature as well as pavement performance, we expect to see less rutting on the areas treated with ‘cool’ pavement applications,” Mr Gapp said.

Terminal waste

Waste management at airport terminals is complex with many stakeholders, operational constraints and specific waste streams. After a 2016 waste audit indicated that around 62 per cent of the general waste from the terminal was organic and that a further 15 per cent of the general waste stream was food service ware including coffee cups, Adelaide Airport developed a strategy to divert this fraction of the waste from landfill.

Adelaide Airport has been working with its tenants to facilitate this transition and has developed a cost analysis tool for tenants to assess the cost or saving of transitioning to compostable food service ware.

“The cost of compostable food service ware has reduced significantly over the past five years and we have actually demonstrated that some of our tenants will achieve savings by transitioning to compostable alternatives. The engagement with our tenants has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mr Gapp said.

“To underpin the engagement work, Adelaide has included specific clauses within its terminal tenancy lease agreements that will require terminal tenants use either durable or compostable food service ware.

“There is a significant investment in infrastructure required to facilitate the transition to compostable food service ware and support the diversion of organic waste including organic waste compactors, bin lifters and the conversion of public space bins to replace the paper stream, which is no longer a relevant public waste stream within our terminal, to an organic stream.

“We expect to transition to a compostable food service ware site over the next five years and are looking forward to engaging with our tenants and the public on this initiative.”

ESG linked loan

In addition to these initiatives, Adelaide Airport recently signed a $50 million seven-year Sustainability Performance Linked Loan with ANZ Bank, the first loan in Australia that incentivises a borrower to even further improve its performance against a set of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.

Adelaide Airport Manager Corporate Finance, Joshua Golding, said Adelaide Airport strived to be a leader in sustainability and would always work hard to embed the principles of sustainable business practice throughout its operations.

“Creating an explicit link between our financing and long-term sustainability credentials — including risk management, governance, our culture, the value we place upon our people and our relationships with our customers and stakeholders — is a key milestone for our business as we seek to further integrate sustainability within our day-to-day operations,” Mr Golding said.

Feature image design and visual by Landini Associates.

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