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Aviation industry collaboration tackles emissions from ground operations

A groundbreaking collaboration between Regional & City Airports (RCA), global travel company TUI and Cranfield University is investigating how to reduce the environmental impact of aircraft turnarounds at airports.

The study will focus on how to decarbonise ground operations and reduce environmental impact by analysing TUI aircraft turnarounds at RCA-owned Exeter Airport in Devon in the UK.

Experts from Cranfield University’s Centre for Air Transport Management, which has a long-standing focus on aviation and the environment, are using TUI data, airport vehicle usage data and other information sources to create an ‘emissions inventory’ of ground operations.

By examining the different elements of the turnaround in detail, the study will address a gap in current research and identify where tangible emissions savings can be made in the short term, and where there may need to be bigger changes in the future, including new technology.

With an estimated 85 million global air traffic movements in 2022[1], the project’s findings could have important ramifications for the global aviation industry.

Professor Anna Smallwood, Head of the Centre for Air Transport Management, Cranfield University: “Addressing the future challenges faced by the aviation industry will require high degrees of collaboration to develop integrated solutions. This is an excellent example of industry and academia working together to understand the real issues and find opportunities to move forward in a viable and sustainable way.”

Dr Thomas Budd, Senior Lecturer and DARTeC Fellow in Airport Planning and Management at Cranfield University said: “This is an exciting opportunity for us examine a key part of the aviation ecosystem and find ways to reduce turnaround emissions. Understanding more about the emissions created will give us a clear view on what mitigating measures will make the most significant impact – and we can then use this as a stepping stone to further decarbonisation of airport operations.”

Andrew Bell, Chief Executive of leading UK regional airport operator Regional & City Airports, said: “This project is the latest in our ongoing collaboration with Cranfield University to help drive innovation across our industry, and is a vital part of RCA’s commitment to make our own airport operations net zero by 2040. We’re excited to be involved and look forward to seeing how the findings could be put into practice across our airport estate.”

Dawn Wilson, Chief Operation Officer, TUI Airline said: “This important collaboration is another step in our net zero journey and commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of travel. TUI Airline is already among the most carbon-efficient in the world having continuously invested in new aircraft, and our goal is to drive further emissions out of the system through our work with RCA and Cranfield University at Exeter Airport.”

Over the coming months, Exeter Airport will act as a living laboratory for Cranfield’s experts to look at aircraft turnarounds in forensic detail. Working with the airport’s ground handling staff and using TUI’s passenger flights, they will track every aspect of the ground handling process to measure emissions impacts.

The next step will examine potential mitigations, including the use of electric and alternatively fuelled airside assets, as well as other operational measures that can be adopted by the airport.

The study is expected to report back next year.


[1] Source: Airports Council International, ACI World confirms top 20 busiest airports worldwide | ACI World

Photos: shows personnel from Exeter Airport, Cranfield University’s Centre for Air Transport Management and TUI during a turnaround of a TUI flight at Exeter Airport. The panorama shows the same turnaround.