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Airports embrace renewable energy to cut air travel emissions

Illustration of an airplane runway in the shape of a recycling symbol
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Airports in the U.S. are attempting to reduce emissions by replacing equipment with electric- and solar-powered technology.

Why it matters: Air travel accounts for 2% of global emissions, and cities and public agencies are uniquely positioned to use their relationships with airlines and terminal operators to impact emissions reduction practices at the airports themselves.

What’s happening:

  • Airport operators in New York City, Washington state, Chicago, and Boston are partnering with airlines, including JetBlue and United, and making use of federal funding including a Federal Aviation Administration grant and an EPA grant to deploy electric-powered ground service equipment and charging infrastructure.
  • The major New York City-area airports, JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, plan to convert to 100% electric shuttle bus fleets in the next year.
  • Airports in Chattanooga and Indianapolis have built solar farms to displace conventional electrical grid supply. JFK is developing solar generation for both on-site consumption and to supply clean energy to surrounding communities.

Between the lines: Despite the federal government pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, 25 states and hundreds of cities have committed to meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

  • The ways that airports adapt to conform to their communities’ greenhouse gas reduction targets will become important parts of the climate action solution.
  • To date, 8 airports have been recognized by the FAA for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including San Francisco, Austin-Bergstrom, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, and Seattle-Tacoma.

What to watch: Achieving carbon neutrality is the next big milestone for airports to reach in reducing emissions.

  • But, but, but: The achievement of carbon neutral status at airports is controversial because it is virtually impossible to attain without the purchase of carbon offsets.
  • The Airport Carbon Accreditation program has awarded just two airports in the U.S, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Diego, with complete neutrality.
  • 16 other U.S. airports, representing 24.4% of all North American air travel, have been recognized as one level under neutrality, including the Port Authority’s 5 airports.

Christine Weydig is the director of environmental and energy programs at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.