Honey & HAM

Ten years ago Hamburg Airport set up an initiative to use Bees to check the airport’s air quality. By measuring the purity of the Honey they produce it was possible to determine that it was perfectly fit for human consumption, thereby proving that the airport’s air quality was as good as anywhere else. (FHG)

Tom Allett visited Hamburg International Airport (IATA: HAM) to catch-up on its long-standing environmental programmes.

Ten years ago Hamburg Airport set up an initiative to use Bees to check the airport’s air quality. By measuring the purity of the Honey they produce it was possible to determine that it was perfectly fit for human consumption, thereby proving that the airport’s air quality was as good as anywhere else. (FHG)

During the summer of 2009 I was able to visit Hamburg International in northern Germany for the first time since it had completed its extensive HAM 21 redevelopment project and I am happy to say that the work undertaken has transformed the airport into the state-of the-art- facility it is today. 
I knew that it had already made a name for itself in terms of its environmental efforts, which really began to gain momentum in 1998, but prior to this trip I was unaware of the details.
Axel Schmidt, Hamburg’s Director of the Centre for Environmental Protection, gave me a tour of the airfield and I have never met anyone quite as enthusiastic about an airport’s ‘green’ credentials as he is, but I had all day, so it wasn’t a problem!  Joking aside though, it’s a serious subject matter.  Mr Schmidt explained: “We adhere to legal regulations, but we want to ensure that we don’t just meet their requirements, we want to beat them.  Whenever possible we reduce our impact on the environment caused by operating our airport over and above these minimum requirements”.
As he sounded so passionate about his work I asked him whether he was an environmentalist who had ended up working in the airport industry or an industry man whose career had led him down the environmental path.
“Oh the first one,” he replied instantly, and I didn’t doubt his sincerity for a moment.
He continued: “We see environmental protection as a process of continuous improvement.  We record, document and evaluate all our activities that may have an impact on the environment so that we can see any potential for improvement as we go forward.  Of course we can only do this if everyone is ‘on board’ so we provide all our staff with detailed instruction and training about environmental issues and set ourselves verifiable improvement targets.
“We invite every employee to come forward and make suggestions for improving our corporate environmental protection and we do listen to what people say.  We take our neighbour’s suggestions, questions and criticism seriously.”
Mr Schmidt explained that it was his team’s job to keep the airport operator, (Flughafen Hamburg GmbH / FHG) informed about all potential environmental issues through its representatives who specialize in the fields of water protection, waste management, hunting, bird strikes, hazardous materials and radiation protection as well as everyday environmental management.  HAM’s original environmental charter consisted of a series of main guidelines, upon which all of FHG’S environmental protection activities are still based.
Perhaps the most important was that environmental protection should become an integral part of the airport’s corporate strategy, meaning that it should avoid making an environmental impact wherever possible; use energy and raw materials as economically as possible and as efficiently as possible.  FHG’s management team also took it upon itself to pressure its clients and working partners to adopt ‘green’ measures.  It may sound pretty routine work to some of you today, but these examples refer to 1998 when few people inside or outside of the aviation industry seemed particularly concerned about the environment.  In aviation terms Hamburg was an environmental trailblazer and is still leading the way.
Of course nothing ever gets done without someone having to do some work.  Hamburg has 14 staff in its environmental team, amazing when you consider that even some of the world’s elite international facilities have only one.
It is no surprise that FHG believes that it is very important to show everyone involved what a high degree of consistency it has achieved in regards to its environmental management, so for this reason it has had its system regularly audited and certified by independent experts since July 1998.  The audits are carried out in accordance with two EU-wide standards; the well-known ISO 14.001 norm and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) directive, valid in the EU.  Both sets of regulations contain similarities, but EMAS rules that the public be provided with a greater level of information regarding environmental activities.  These take the form of a charter, which provides detailed information on all environmental protection-related issues every three years.  The most recent was published in October 2008.
Air Quality
Finding that the air quality at a major international airport is better than that found inside its corresponding city centre would be a surprise to many, including me.  This is especially true when the city in question doesn’t have a reputation for choking traffic jams or similar pollution generating problems.  But Hamburg’s environmental team can boast just such an achievement.
It hasn’t been easy though; it has taken a dedicated and growing team many years of pioneering work to reach this level of achievement.  Now, after its knowledge and experience has been shared with others, some of those airports have begun to replicate Hamburg’s success.
I asked Mr Schmidt if he thought that the airport had a good relationship with its neighbours and whether he thought that those neighbours had any respect for what was being done and the statistical information it generated.  He said that he thought that with the exception of just a very few individuals, HAM’s neighbours were at ease with the environmental programmes in place.  He also referred to the results of its Bee programme as having a great influence on proving to the public that its information about air quality was accurate.
The airport’s apiarist, Ingo Fehr, is responsible for looking after between 80,000 – 12,000 bees every summer – not a job for the faint-hearted! (FHG)

To test the purity of the airport air for the last ten summers, five or six bee colonies have been located near to the runways.  Around 80,000 to 120,000 of these tiny ‘bio-detectives’ are taken care of by the airport’s apiarist, Ingo Fehr, and the test works because environmental damage to plants blossoming in the vicinity of the airport indicates impurity in the air.  Any pollutants will be found in the nectar and pollen from these plants, which is then gathered by the bees.  Later, after nature’s workforce has completed its duties, any pollutants can be detected in their honey.
Hamburg was the first airport in Europe to introduce this so-called bio-monitoring method using bees and its success has led others to introduce the same methods.
Mr Schmidt commented that: “Tests in recent years have shown that the honey produced is, in terms of fitness for human consumption, consistently, absolutely perfect.  The air at and around Hamburg Airport is clean and of the highest quality.”  The average honey harvest is around 330lb (150kg).  Around 2.2lb (1kg) of honey is produced from 6.6lb (3kg) of nectar; so it is estimated that the bees must have visited around 15 million blossoms in the course of approximately 150,000 flights during each summer.  The end result tastes great and the airport presents honey jars as gifts on special occasions.
 
The Hydrogen Project
An example of the work being done to reduce the airport’s emissions is its Hydrogen project that was introduced at the end of 2006.  Since that time, two luggage tow tractors (R07-25 models manufactured by STILL) powered by fuel cells and a Fiat Doblo delivery truck with hydrogen combustion technology have been in use.  The project is being implemented with scientific support on the part of Hamburg-based universities and the hydrogen association, Wasserstoff-Gesellschaft Hamburg eV.  As far as its airside traffic goes, the airport is an ideal test site for testing alternative fuel vehicles.  Airside driving involves constant stopping and staring, just like you might encounter in a drive around a city, but things differ when it comes to considering the prolonged periods of ‘down time’ involved on the ramp when vehicles are not being used.  The Italian company EDI Progetti converted the engine of a Fiat Doblo mini van owned by the airport to a dual fuel system, which means that it can now be powered by either hydrogen or petrol.  The mode of propulsion is selected manually and whenever the Fiat runs on hydrogen, it is as emission-free, except for a minor amount of nitrogen oxide.
HAM’s current Hydrogen project is still quite small and using this gas isn’t a unique airport experiment, but these are early days and the technology is still being developed.  Although Hydrogen is universally recognised as being far ‘greener’ than the fossil fuels, the fact that it is only in small-scale use means that the economies of scale come in to play here.  At the moment, the airport’s environmental team estimates that using Hydrogen is about 80% more expensive than diesel and using the gas at any airport will bring up issues about the number and location of refuelling points that are required for an efficient operation, but if the use of Hydrogen catches on, costs will inevitably fall dramatically.  In the meantime though, the airport is proud to be investing its cash in experiments with such fuels of the future and hopes today’s seeds will bear fruit tomorrow.
 
Energy Consumption
HAM’s energy consumption is largely determined by the 120 buildings or so that are on site.  Even at night, there is a significant energy requirement as maintenance work goes on around the clock.  There is also the energy-intensive airfield lighting to consider because even though the latest generation of lights are incredibly more efficient than their predecessors, they still draw electricity of course.
Heat and about half of the energy required for its buildings is generated in a block heat and power plant, which runs on a combination of natural gas and a central boiler plant, generating around 1,800t of Co2.
To reduce the amount of energy consumed for heating and lighting purposes, the decision was taken to lower the heating in the terminal buildings by 0.5° C in winter, while the summer air conditioning is lowered by 1° C.  In addition, the gates of the hangars are opened for as short a period as possible and combined, these measures save approx. 1,750t of Co2 per year.
Hidden away from the public’s eye deep underneath Terminal 1 is what is called a thermo-labyrinth that saves around 400t of Co2 per year.  It works by taking the outside air required for air conditioning and piping it into the terminal’s ‘labyrinth’.  The temperatures within that maze of tunnels will heat the arriving air in winter and cool it in summer, thus reducing the output of the air conditioning system.
Unfortunately, in an article of this size it is impossible to cover all the environmental work being done at Hamburg, but hopefully these words give you an insight into how seriously the task is taken by the airport’s dedicated team.
If there is another airport in the world that is making greater efforts to control its environmental impact, then I haven’t seen it yet.