Alternative Power

Fixed electrical ground power is helping to save costs and reduce airport and airline emissions. (KEY – Duncan Cubitt)

Airports and airlines are working hard to reduce their emissions by switching from APUs to electrical ground power.  Tom Allett reports.

Fixed electrical ground power is helping to save costs and reduce airport and airline emissions. (KEY – Duncan Cubitt)

With growing environmental pressures upon airports and airlines alike, all areas of the commercial aviation industry have moved towards reducing their respective carbon ‘footprints’.  It didn’t happen overnight.  The ‘going green’ process has been evolving, with Europe leading the way, for at least three years.  It must be noted that the aviation industry’s surging interest in environmental programmes wasn’t driven by a desire to ‘save the planet,’ it gathered momentum quickly because of the near relentless attacks it was receiving via the national media.
After much of the ‘shouting’ was over, scientific research proved that aviation is a long way from being the globe-killing threat that some would have you believe.  However, like every other industry, aviation must have – and has delivered – a responsible approach to the problem.
The criticism received did change many aspects of commercial aviation operations both in the air and on the ground.  One bonus is that, in the current economic climate, the need to save energy and costs go hand in hand.  From the flying point of view, air traffic services have worked hard to reduce the amount of time that aircraft spend holding either on the ground or in the air.  At the same time, many airports are now encouraging airlines to switch to using fixed electrical ground power units (GPUs) instead of running their aircraft’s auxiliary power units (APUs).  For example, British Airways (BA) has estimated that APUs can contribute up to about 20% of all ground level NOx emissions and are obviously more expensive to run than an electricity-powered alternative.
BA and easyJet are just two of the airlines that are working hard to reduce their APU operating times further by switching to electrical power and conditioned air from ground equipment.
Although most airports have fixed ground power, relatively few are able to deliver conditioned air  supplies.  However, as airports are modernised, the availability of fixed electrical power and pre-conditioned air is becoming more widespread.  Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is a good example of how NOx emissions can be significantly reduced.