It’s not yet clear how the current Covid-19 outbreak will affect growth in the airline industry in the short term. Prior to the crisis, however, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was confidently predicting passenger numbers would double to 8.2 billion between 2018 and 2037. Most growth is expected to come from emerging economies in the Asia Pacific region. With it come jobs and huge economic benefits but also significant challenges in terms of emissions and the infrastructure required to cope with rising demand.
Aviation already accounts for some 2% of global emissions, a figure that could increase between 300 and 700% by 2050 unless growth is significantly checked. Driven by growing public demand and the requirements of international agreements, both airlines and airports are making efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. Everything from innovations like biofuels to electric planes to more immediately achievable targets like energy-efficient buildings and reduced water use is on the table.
Environmentalists and the media usually focus attention on planes themselves, or the construction of new runways. Less well known, however, is that almost half of emissions beyond an airport come from ground transportation used by staff and passengers traveling to and from the site. These surface journeys also impact air quality and congestion in the surrounding area.
Airports tend to be located away from residential areas to minimize air and noise pollution but this can make them harder to get to. While they often have good transport links to city centers, these are less useful for the many staff and passengers whose journey starts or ends elsewhere. Add in the challenges of negotiating unfamiliar routes, schedules and ticketing for visitors and it’s no surprise low-occupancy vehicles like private cars, taxis or ride-hails are often the transport of choice. However, these can all increase congestion and pollution so efforts to reduce aviation’s overall carbon footprint must consider the bigger picture and look beyond the airport itself.
Electric or autonomous vehicles—well suited to short distances or fixed routes, respectively—may be one answer. However, mass uptake of either is still some way off and neither solves congestion if the overall number of vehicles on the roads remains the same. However, they do offer immediate benefits when used for ground transportation of staff and passengers in and around the airport.
An opportunity also exists here for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Dynamically routed demand-responsive shuttles, with convenient integrated ticketing and payment, can allow passengers and employees to transition seamlessly to public transport or even share rides to nearby destinations. MaaS can also provide solutions for in-airport transit and Shotl is currently providing technology to enable shared on-demand ShuttleMe services to employees at Munich airport.
Sustainable air travel may sound like a contradiction in terms—and major reductions to flight emissions a distant dream—but actions can be taken right now to make airports greener on the ground. At Shotl we hope to see more public-private partnerships in the coming years that yield smart solutions to infrastructure and transport challenges and put neighboring communities and the planet first.
Shotl, in collaboration with Essex County Council and professional services provider Jacobs, is currently involved in a project which is digitizing home to school journeys in the UK.
Covid-19 has brought the world to a grinding halt, affecting lives and businesses. But this enforced hiatus is also an opportunity to take stock, so we can be better prepared next time.