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COPCAS Student Blog: Fly Net Zero: A Progress in Aviation

Friday, November 26, 2021

On the topic of climate change, it is not uncommon that the aviation industry gets highly criticised for being a large contributor of CO2 emissions. Unlike other forms of transport such as trains and cars, there is not yet a clear zero-emission alternative to long-haul fossil fuel-powered flight. It is also widely known that aviation is complicated to decarbonise due to several reasons including the longevity of an aircraft fleet which makes it uniquely difficult to introduce newer, sustainable aircrafts that could help reduce carbon emissions. Additional hurdles including rigorous national and international safety standards that aircrafts need to pass further contribute to slow deployment of newer fleets. However, with increasing political and public pressure to take climate emergency more seriously, the aviation industry has started to announce net zero emissions targets by 2050.


AGS Airports Ltd, which owns and operates Aberdeen International, Glasgow and Southampton airports, is amongst the few in the industry to take the lead and make serious commitments towards achieving net zero carbon for their direct emissions.  In 2020, AGS have already made significant progress in addressing their environmental impacts with all three airports achieving carbon neutrality status for the emissions under their direct control. During the recent Fly Net Zero’ side event at COP26, which was hosted by Glasgow Airport, Derek Provan, Chief Executive Officer of AGS, has confirmed plans to build a solar farm at Glasgow airport large enough to support its continuous roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. We later found out in an interview with Derek, which was successfully arranged by Gwyneth Matthews, COPCAS PhD student on the ground in Glasgow, that the plan is part of its wider sustainability strategy to decarbonise its infrastructure and operations by the mid-2030s. Derek expressed his excitement surrounding the opportunity for real innovation and research as part of the process of taking climate action. His optimism did not waiver throughout the interview particularly when he highlighted the examples of current collaborative work that AGS have been involved with so far, within and outside the wider aviation industry, in response to tackling the climate emergency. Despite being enthusiastic, Derek also recognised the reality that there is still progress to be made in the aviation industry when it comes to achieving carbon neutrality. The agreement to ‘Fly Net Zero' is a huge step and commitment which will require collective contribution from all stakeholders and industry leaders in aviation. Derek addressed that there is now pressure and expectations “to be talking about what you are doing, not what just you are committing to do”.


Our conversation with Derek was one notably marked with hope and enthusiasm, and a clear message that he expressed was “that there once was a time when missing a target was acceptable in business when it came to sustainability targets, now it is as important as every other target, whether it be financial, security or safety… there is only one direction, which is we have to meet those targets”.


Written by Marimel Gler, PhD COPCAS student