AGS Airports collaborates with ZeroAvia on zero-emission flights

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AGS Airports, which owns and operates Glasgow, Southampton and Aberdeen airports in the UK, has partnered with ZeroAvia to explore the development of fuel infrastructure, regulatory framework requirements and resourcing required for delivering zero-emission flights from both Aberdeen and Glasgow airports.

Both companies will now forge ahead with assessing the opportunities for hydrogen production onsite, as well as exploring potential commercial routes. The aim is to work towards a flight demonstration powered by ZeroAvia’s ZA600 600kW hydrogen-electric engine, which is on a path towards certification by 2025.

Switching some routes to aircraft powered by ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric powertrain will help AGS Airports to reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions from aircraft and reduce noise and air quality impacts locally. AGS will also explore how hydrogen can be used to remove emissions across its ground operations.

“The development of hydrogen powered aircraft has the potential to completely revolutionise aviation and it is becoming an increasingly viable option for regional and short-haul aircraft,” said Derek Provan, CEO of AGS Airports. “As a regional airport group serving the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as well as the Channel Islands from Southampton, AGS will be the perfect testbed for hydrogen flight. Through our partnership with ZeroAvia we’ll address some of the challenges associated with the generation, delivery and storage of hydrogen on-site and how we can prepare our infrastructure to support zero-emission flights.”

The role of co-processing in aviation’s transition to a low-carbon future

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Andreea Moyes, Air bp’s global head of sustainability, on the role of co-processing in aviation’s transition to a low-carbon future.

Although demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is expected to experience significant growth1, production is currently limited with only a handful of commercial plants available today. bp believes that producing SAF through co-processing at existing refineries will help the aviation sector as it transitions to a low-carbon industry and builds dedicated and more efficient standalone units for SAF production.

Today, existing refineries can be used to co-process 5% approved renewable feedstocks alongside the crude oil streams to meet the requirements of the industry jet fuel standard ASTM D1655. bp’s Lingen refinery in Germany is already being used to produce SAF through co-processing

Alternatively, SAF2 produced in standalone units (which are not currently widely available) would meet ASTM D7566 – the standard specification for aviation turbine fuel containing synthesised hydrocarbons. This is then blended with up to 50% conventional jet fuel and certified as ASTM D1655. Encouragingly, ASTM is also supporting the development of specifications for 100% SAF.

The advantage of co-processing is that it doesn’t require the significant financial investment and time that comes with building a new standalone facility. Relatively minor modifications are required to enable the production of SAF through co-processing while standalone plants get up and running.   Also, these facilities potentially have greater flexibility in feedstocks for the coming years of energy transition, being able to switch between co-processing and the traditional processing of crude oil, to meet fluctuations in demand. There are currently around 600 refineries3 in the world. That’s a huge manufacturing resource in terms of the opportunity to help production today.

Given the bulk of our refinery experience to date has been based around processing crude oil, we are continually using this expertise as the foundation for building our knowledge and understanding around co-processing renewable feedstocks. Over the last decade we have gained greater understanding of how these feedstocks are different to crude oil, as well as how this might impact our facilities and kit. This has placed us in a strong position to produce SAF through co-processing in the most efficient and economical way.

Another advantage of co-processing is that operators can be flexible in terms of increasing the volumes of renewable feedstocks while decreasing crude oil volumes. bp has launched an ASTM co-processing taskforce working alongside other industry experts to increase the limit of approved renewable feedstocks from 5% up to 30%. If successful, this approval would benefit the whole industry. It’s about finding a universal route to help the industry transition to a low-carbon future. Ultimately, the aim would be to explore co-processing of up to 100% renewable feedstocks as reliance on crude oil diminishes in the future.

Let’s look at co-processing and standalone plants in more detail

When it comes to transporting feedstocks to refineries, this is typically done by rail, truck, or barge. For example, our refinery in Lingen can receive shipments by barge which enables feedstocks to be transported in bulk offering more competitive freight costs and in most cases lower carbon emissions compared to trucks. Once produced the optimum method for transporting SAF is via pipeline. This is a highly efficient, convenient, and safe way of supplying fuel to airports. Generally, aviation fuel in the US is supplied to airports using a network of pipelines4 and in Europe many existing refineries are well connected to efficient logistics solutions such as pipelines or rail. Standalone plants (depending on where they are located and the supply routes for such plants) might not be so well connected. Care will be required to optimise this aspect, balancing sustainable feedstock source and distance to the aviation market.

One of the advantages with a standalone plant is that it produces 100% renewable SAF, which can be transported neat before being blended with conventional jet fuel.  SAF produced through co-processing on the other hand, only contains up to 5% renewable feedstocks. This highlights the importance of solutions such as mass balancing and book and claim systems that give customers greater access to the low carbon benefits of SAF produced through co-processing The latter enables customers to access the benefits of SAF without being physically connected to the supply site, and high volumes of conventional jet fuel (blended with SAF) don’t have to be transported in inefficient ways.  Success of the proposed 30% co-processing approval would clearly benefit all.

Another challenge fuel suppliers face is that to qualify for tax credits and other financial incentives some jurisdictions require measurement of the renewable carbon content in aviation fuel, using third-party verification through C-14 testing. This tests for carbon from recently living sources such as plants and animals.  However, with the range of renewable feedstocks continually evolving C-14 is not an effective test method for all possibilities, for example municipal solid waste. Given SAF from standalone plants is produced from 100% renewable feedstocks the requirement for C-14 isn’t necessary and we anticipate this resource-intensive test method will eventually be removed for standalone produced SAF. We believe that feedstock traceability and lifecycle reduction measures are a more efficient and cost-effective way of measuring and accounting for the carbon footprint of SAF produced through co-processing too, and as such, we would like to see C-14 testing replaced by these in all circumstances.

 

A combination of co-processing and standalone units is required to meet industry targets

As the aviation sector continues to explore opportunities to scale up the production of SAF in the most economical and efficient way, bp considers that co-processing has an integral role to play. However, we also believe that co-processing on its own won’t be enough to meet increasing SAF demand. Standalone units will also be required to ramp up production. Building on its refinery footprint in the near-term future, bp anticipates investing in five major biofuels projects, including three adjacent to existing refineries and the conversion of up to two bio-refineries.

It’s only by combining the expertise and resources found in existing refineries with new processes and standalone plants that the industry will be able to ensure SAF is supplied at scale, not just in the short term, but up to and beyond 2050.

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Avinor airports see 78% increase in passenger numbers

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Norwegian airport operator Avinor has revealed that a total of 4,201,183 passengers travelled to, from or via its airports in July 2022. This is an increase of 78% over the same month last year.

The operator says that in July, 2,221,754 passengers travelled abroad, which was an increase of 369% over July 2021 when the passenger number total was 473,422.

1,935,499 passengers travelled domestically, an increase of 5% from 1,847,844 in July 2021.

“We have seen a steady increase in air traffic through 2021 and 2022. This is not surprising, as we are slowly but surely getting out of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the figures for July were significantly influenced by the SAS strike, as many passengers could not complete their travels due to cancelled flights. At Oslo Airport, this represented about 20% of the travellers we had expected in advance,” explained Gaute Skallerud Riise, Vice President Traffic Development at Avinor.

Svalbard Airport saw an increase of 168% in passenger numbers compared to the same month last year, Avinor says. “The big increase is due to the number of charter flights to and from Svalbard Airport. Compared to 2019, we have doubled the number of charter flights. There has been a huge increase in interest in Arctic conditions, and as a result, many people want to fly to Svalbard,” explains Airport Manager Hans Jørgen Bugge.

Oslo Airport is also experiencing the biggest increase in passenger numbers in the first six months of 2022 with 12,043,014 passengers, this represents an increase of 310% compared to the first half of 2021. “These are very pleasant numbers and I am glad that traffic has picked up. The fact that traffic is on the way back and that so many people choose to fly is important for the Norwegian visitor industry, business and tourism. Aviation creates a lot of jobs and great value for the business sector,” said Airport Director Stine Ramstad Westby.

“We have worked hard to prepare for the first normal summer after the pandemic, and to ensure that all travellers have the best possible experience at Oslo Airport and all Avinor airports. We will continue to do so throughout the autumn and beyond,” she concluded.

European airports report exponential passenger growth

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European airports handled an additional 660 million passengers in the first half of 2022, according to Airports Council International (ACI) Europe’s latest air traffic report.

Passenger traffic in the European airport network jumped by +247% in H1 2022 compared to the same period last year – resulting in airports across the continent handling an additional 660 million passengers.

“These numbers speak for themselves,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “If COVID-19 caused an unprecedented collapse in passenger traffic for Europe’s airports, the rebound we have experienced this spring – especially in the EU+ market – is equally extraordinary. The fact that volumes across the continent still remained -28.3% below pre-pandemic levels for the first half of the year should not eclipse the sheer and unprecedented unleashing of pent-up demand that has occurred since March.”

According to the association, the increase was predominantly driven by international traffic (+381.2%) rather than domestic traffic (88.5%). It was also very much concentrated in Q2, which followed the easing as of March of the Omnicron-related restrictions for travel within Europe as well as for an increasing number of external markets.

The month of June was the closest so far to full passenger traffic recovery with the month closing at -17.4% against pre-pandemic (June 2019) levels. This marked the strongest monthly performance since pre-pandemic reporting  in February 2020 with recovery continued to be driven by leisure and VFR demand, as evidenced from the results achieved by airports in countries relying heavily on tourism.

Airports in Greece (a holiday hotspot) and Luxembourg were the only ones to fully recover their pre-pandemic passenger traffic volumes in June. Meanwhile airports in Portugal came close to a full recovery, as did hubs in Lithuania and Norway.

At the other end of the spectrum, airports in Slovenia, Finland, Bulgaria, Czechia and Latvia struggled to recover more dynamically, notably due to the impact of the war in Ukraine and related international sanctions on Russia. Among the largest EU+ markets, airports in Spain and Italy posted the best results, followed by airports in France, the UK and and Germany.

The top five European airports (-17%) and large air transport hubs kept under performing smaller and regional airport hubs (-6.6%) in June, when compared to pre-pandemic (2019) passenger traffic levels. This is most likely due to travel restrictions on selected Asian market – in particular China.

There was also good news from a number of regional airports serving popular tourism destinations and/ or relying on low-fare carriers, as they exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) traffic levels in June, including: Santorini (+72.5%), Tirana (+59.3%), Zadar (+39. 1%), Funchal (+27.9%), Mykonos (+12.9%), Kauna (+8.1%), Menorca (+6.5%), Billund (+5.5%), Olbia (+4.7%) and Bergamo (+1.1%).

In the cargo sector, freight traffic across Europe made limited gains in H1 at -0.8% compared to the same period last year. This reflects the wider impact of the war in Ukraine on supply chains, which sent freight traffic on a downward trend as of last February – with the month of June closing at -4.5%.

IATA calls for greater support in safe transportation of lithium batteries

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on governments to further support the safe carriage of lithium batteries. The association wants to see global standards for screening, fire-testing and incident information sharing being developed and implemented around the world.

The challenge is the rapid increase in global demand for lithium  batteries (the market is growing 30% annually) according to IATA, which in turn is bringing new shippers into air cargo supply chains. Subsequently a critical risk that is evolving is incidents of undeclared or mis-declared shipments.

IATA has long been calling for governments to increase enforcement of safety regulations around the transport of lithium batteries. It would like to see these regulations including stiffer penalties for rogue shippers and the criminalisation of egregious or willful offenses. Additional measures it would like to see being introduced include: The development of safety-related screening standards and processes for lithium batteries; the development and implementation of a fire-testing standard that addresses lithium battery fire containment; enhanced safety data collection and sharing of information between governments.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General commented: “Airlines, shippers, manufacturers and governments all want to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air. It’s a joint responsibility. The industry is raising the bar to consistently apply existing standards and share critical information on rogue shippers. But there are some areas where the leadership of governments is critical. Stronger enforcement of existing regulations and the criminalisation of abuses will send a strong signal to rogue shippers. And the accelerated development of standards for screening, information exchange and fire containment will give the industry even more effective tools to work with.”

European tourism to demonstrate resilience throughout 2022

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European tourism will remain resilient amidst risks on multiple fronts, according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) most recent edition of its quarterly report European Tourism Trends & Prospects. The report monitors the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as current economic and geopolitical headwinds and anticipates that European tourism will continue recovering in 2022, albeit at a slower pace than previously hoped.

While international tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 30% below 2019 volumes in 2022 and this sector is not expected to exceed 2019 levels until 2025, domestic travel is projected to fully recover this year.

Despite remaining in negative territory, year-to-date data for Q1, 2022 showed that across all reporting destinations, arrivals are estimated to be 43% lower on a weighted basis relative to 2019 – an improvement over the 60% decline observed in the previous quarter. The fastest rebounds based on data to February were reported by Serbia (-11%) and Turkey (-12%). Other destinations recovering at a faster pace based on data to February-March 2022 are Bulgaria (-18%), Austria (-33%), Spain and Monaco (both -34%) and Croatia (-37%).

Luis Araujo, ETC’s President said: “Over the course of the pandemic, the European tourism sector has become adept at dealing with uncertainties and challenges. The sector is steadily recovering from COVID-19 and there is cause of optimism. Nevertheless, European tourism will have to maintain this fortitude throughout the year as Europe continues to deal with the significant fallout from the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict. ETC calls on EU institutions to continue to provide sufficient and timely financial aid and other support to the sector, especially to destinations heavily reliant on tourism from Russia and Ukraine.”

The report also shows that COVID-19 is ebbing as the primary factor influencing consumer travel plans. Helped by the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as destinations’ health protocols and certifications, international travellers are now less hesitant about visiting Europe. Many countries, such as Spain, France, and Italy, have removed the requirement for COVID testing prior to travel, conditional on vaccination status. As a result of these actions, Western Europe is forecast to be the best performing region globally this year, albeit 24% below 2019 levels.

The US remains among the best performers of all long-haul source markets with transatlantic travel between the US and Europe this year one of the key drivers of the European travel sector’s recovery.

In contrast, there have been no immediate signs of Chinese tourist arrivals returning to pre-pandemic levels. China, the world’s largest spender, is currently enduring a severe outbreak of the Omicron variant in Shanghai and other big cities, prompting authorities to reimpose strict lockdowns and mandatory testing to suppress the spread of the virus. More than 50% of reporting destinations saw declines of more than 90% in Chinese tourist arrivals compared to 2019.

The report also underlines that the Russo-Ukrainian conflict will result in reduce outbound travel from both source markets. In the short-term, neighbouring countries and those most reliant on Russia and Ukraine as source markets will be worst affected in terms of tourism performance. Eastern Europe’s recovery has been pushed back to 2025 due to the conflict, with arrivals now forecast to be 43% lower in 2022 compared to 2019.

The impact of the war could mostly hurt destinations such as Cyprus, Montenegro, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, where Russians made up at least 10% of total inbound travel in 2019. Beyond the visitor impact, Russian tourists tend to be high spenders meaning that an even greater impact will be felt in terms of tourism expenditure in these destinations.

Besides the direct effects of reduced travel from both Russia and Ukraine, the conflict has created other problems for the European travel sector, including inflationary effect of economic sanctions on Russia. These will continue to exacerbate rising jet fuel prices and could cause airfare price hikes this year. Other rising costs such as food and energy could also erode consumer demand for travel. In addition, a recent survey by MMGY Travel Intelligence indicates that 62% of US travellers planning to visit Europe stated concerns about Russia’s war on Ukraine spreading to other countries as a factor impacting their travel plans.

Air traffic expected to recover to 84% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022

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The year ahead looks set to be a bumper year for aviation with the latest EUROCONTROL Traffic Scenarios for the period April to December 2022 predicting steady growth with figures reaching 89% of 2019 traffic by August, gently rising to end the year at 92%.

This sustained recovery will translate into around 9.3 million flights operated throughout Europe for the full year 2022. That represents 84% of 2019 traffic, when the network saw a record of 11. 1 million flights and is a welcome increase on the 6.2 million flights recorded last year.

Commenting on the forecasted growth Eamonn Brennan, Director General, EUROCONTROL said: “Aviation has continued to recover well over the last few weeks, and there has been a steady climb from 68% in January rising to 79% by the start of April compared to 2019 levels, even factoring in the impact on the network and on fuel prices of the unprovoked aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Airlines are adding lots of capacity, and some airlines are already outperforming their pre-pandemic levels. People are showing that they are really keen to fly – many for the first time since before the pandemic began. Hitting 90% or more of 2019 traffic at peak summer moments is firmly on the cards, and we expect holiday destinations and some other parts of the network to exceed 100% of their 2019 levels

“Clearly, however, there are still some downside risks related to continued geopolitical tensions that could further impact fuel prices and economic conditions, as well as the possibility of new COVID variants. We’re also seeing staff shortages in parts of the industry, particularly at airports in key roles such as airport screeners or ground handlers, and this needs to be carefully managed. Should any of these factors come into play, traffic could slide towards the levels envisaged in our Low Scenario.”

EUROCONTROL’s Base Scenario foresees traffic returning to around 90% of 2019 levels by summer 2022 and remaining steady until the end of the year, with most intra-European flows back to normal or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels, and long-haul flows progressively returning.

The Low Scenario envisages a slower recovery by the summer to a maximum of 83% of 2019 levels, with some risks materialising to create a post-summer dip, and only a partial recovery by year-end.

The High Scenario assumes a rapid acceleration to 95% of 2019 levels over the summer, with most global travel flows resuming, no further adverse impacts post-summer, and traffic rising at year-end to head towards pre-pandemic levels.

The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports

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For self-service and automation technology, the pandemic has in many cases been a catalyst rather than a deterrent. In the March issue of Regional Gateway, we hear from Valour Consultancy how estimated revenues associated with self-bag drop, kiosks and eGates held firm in the face of the pandemic.

The challenge now is to convince cash-strapped airports to continue to invest as passenger volumes and demand recover. The stats are persuasive: self-service and automated touchpoints are forecast to account for 26% of revenues associated with the seamless passenger journey between 2020 and 2030.

For more information, take a look at the below snippets from Valour Consultancy’s infographic detailing key findings from its recent market intelligence report The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports:

To subscribe for free to Regional Gateway magazine, visit www.regionalgateway.net/subscribe

To access the full infographic, visit the Valour Consultancy website.

Dismay at rhetoric around “ghost flights” as airports trade body reiterates support for slot thresholds

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has expressed dismay at the escalating industry and political rhetoric around so-called “ghost flights” and reiterated its strong support for the European Commission’s position on the thresholds for use of airport slots by airlines.

The usage threshold for the current season, Winter 21, is set at 50%. This is, as the European Commission has reiterated, a significantly lower threshold than that set under the 80/20 “use it or lose it” principle applicable in normal times. It is designed to reflect the uncertainties of a badly hit market and fragile recovery for aviation.

Crucially, and as a direct result of the ongoing uncertainties posed by the pandemic, there is also in place a specific provision for what the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines calls “justified non-use of slots” (JNUS).

JNUS effectively allows airlines to use their allocated airport slots for less than 50% of the time. It is specifically designed to address the COVID pandemic and covers not only outright travel bans but also restrictions of movement, quarantine or isolation measures that impact the viability or possibility of travel or the demand for travel on specific routes.

It is therefore the case that, with a significantly reduced slot usage threshold and a specific provision for changing circumstances such as that presented by the Omicron variant, airlines are very well protected from the current uncertainties.

As a result, it is unclear why the issue of “ghost flights” is now under discussion. Ghost flights are defined as those voluntarily operated by airlines exclusively for the purpose of retaining historic rights to their slots. Accordingly, ghost flights are not offered for sale, carry no passengers and generate no revenue for airlines. Conversely, flights offered for sale, carrying passengers and generating revenue for airlines cannot be considered as ghost flights.

Low load factors have been a reality throughout the pandemic, but the retention of vital air connectivity for both economic and societal imperatives is well documented.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, said: “A few airlines are claiming they are forced to run high volumes of empty flights in order to retain airport slot usage rights. There is absolutely no reason why this should be the reality. As was clearly stated by the European Commission, slot usage rules need to achieve two things in the current circumstances. Firstly, to protect airlines from the worst of unpredictabilities which are out of all our hands. Secondly, and crucially, to also ensure that airport capacity is still used in a pro-competitive way.

“The pandemic has hit us all hard. Balancing commercial viability alongside the need to retain essential connectivity and protect against anti-competitive consequences is a delicate task. We believe that the European Commission has got this right. Talk of ghost flights and of their environmental impacts seems to hint at a doomsday scenario which has no place in reality. Let’s stick to the vital task of recovering and rebuilding together.”

Increased airport slot usage rule welcomed by European airports

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Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has welcomed the decision by the European Commission to set a 64% minimum airport slot usage threshold for the summer 2022 season.

“Moving to a 64% usage rule for next summer is an essential and fully justified step in progressively restoring normal slot usage rules, which should be fully reinstated for winter 2022,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe.

As of next summer, airlines operating out of congested EU airports will be required to use their allocated slots for at least 64% of the time to keep them, up from the 50% threshold currently applied. While this is still a way off the normal 80% usage rules, the continued application of ‘force majeure’ provisions will in any case provide airlines with full flexibility and protection from the usage requirement in case of disruptive new travel restrictions.

Jankovec added that the Commission’s decision reflects the new reality of the aviation market where some airlines have downsized structurally while others are looking at expanding. “There is no doubt this will facilitate the continued restoration of air connectivity and at the same time allow for a more effective use of airport capacity,” he said.

The progressive increase in the minimum slot usage threshold is backed by data from both Eurocontrol and airports throughout Europe, which points towards a good level of recovery in the summer season. This would see traffic reaching a substantial percentage of 2019 levels on average, and at some airports and in some peak periods actually equalling or surpassing 2019 traffic.

Following the busy summer season and the resulting need for airports to make appropriate operational plans, airports urge airlines to return slots which are not being used as early as possible. This will provide airports with visibility of planned use of their capacity, which is vital in this period of ramping-up of operations.