What can aviation, especially air freight, do to become CO2 neutral faster? This is what high-ranking managers from airlines, logistics companies, airports, and association representatives discussed last Wednesday (02JUN21) at a webinar hosted by the German Air Transport Association (BDL). The overarching theme of the session: air freight and climate protection.
Either air freight and logistics go green and hurry up in doing so, or the industry has no future. A thought-provoking alert signal voiced by MD Matthias von Randow of the German Air Transport Association (BDL), at the webinar on "air freight and climate protection" hosted by his organization.
Do or die
But how should this be done, by what means, at what cost, and how quickly? Amazingly, there was a broad consensus among the participants on these issues. All efforts are initially directed at 2030 as an intermediate target, followed by the industry’s CO2 neutrality in 2050.
Two factors that previously acted in parallel or even in opposition to each other have recently begun to join forces: The "climate killer" function of aviation, voiced by a growing opposition, coupled with the internal willingness of many companies to take action to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.
Working together – not against each other – seems to be the new formula of success. This was expressed, for example, by Marcel Fujike, SVP Products & Services Global Air Logistics, Kuehne+Nagel. He pointed out that, in addition to Kuehne+Nagel’s own steps to fight global warming, the logistic giant’s customers are the most important drivers of climate initiatives.
Michael Gill, Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), spoke of mounting pressure coming from a range of different stakeholders, among them corporate customers, the environmentally conscious critical public, but also governments, and employees of transport companies, who demand action to improve their company’s environmental footprint.
CEO Dorothea von Boxberg of Lufthansa Cargo pointed out that fuel is the biggest lever to making air freight transport greener. This is evidenced by data. For example, when transporting a cargo shipment from A to Z, a flight contributes 98.5% of CO2 emissions, while pre-carriage and on-carriage of goods to/from and on airports only cause 1.5% greenhouse gas emissions.
Hence, overcoming the fossil fuel era remains by far the industry's biggest challenge on its way to a climate-neutral future.
The good news is that the long-time sleepy aviation industry is beginning to wake up, seen by a new dynamic coming to light. More and more cargo airlines are committing to tanking Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), such as Lufthansa Cargo or KLM Cargo. They are doing this in close cooperation with freight forwarders and the manufacturing industry because of the still ongoing enormous price difference compared to fossil fuels. However, the SAF price will fall, predicted ATAG helmsman Michael Gill. There are currently 14 SAF plants operating or under construction worldwide, which will lead to economies of scale once larger volumes are produced, causing price reductions in the medium term.
Level playing field for SAF production and trade demanded
In this context, all panelists called for a level playing field regarding SAF. Holger Loesch, Deputy Managing Director of the Federation of German Industries (BDL), emphasized that subsidizing fuel, which is currently common practice in the Netherlands, California, USA, and the UK, leads to fuel competition and does not help the climate in any way. BDL head and moderator of the event, Matthias von Randow, urged national governments or the EU to subsidize SAF or to impose taxes on fossil kerosene on a global level. Michael Hoppe, Secretary General of the Board of Airline Representatives in Germany (BARIG), demanded that taxes should have a steering effect and not end up in the general budget, but should directly benefit the aviation industry.
Markus Otto, head of DHL's European Air Transport (EAT) unit, emphasized that he is not a supporter of state interventions. “What we need are innovations, scaling effects in combination with trading CO2 certificates.” He assured that DHL freighters will be fueled 30% with SAF by 2030. In addition, the 80,000-unit fleet of DHL vehicles will be successively converted to e-drive. All in all, Deutsche Post Group is investing 7 billion euros by 2030 in the measures mentioned.
Airports are offered a wide field of action
The second panel was about the role of airports in reducing greenhouse gases. And something is stirring there, too. Johan Vaneste, head of Cologne-Bonn Airport, announced investments in hydrogen power. CGN will be one of the first airports to have a hydrogen filling station for vehicles operating within the airport.
Simultaneously, mobility can also be reduced, he said. For example, freighters can dock directly at warehouses equipped with gates enabling containers or pallets to be pushed directly into the facility. This is feasible at the Louisville, Kentucky, airport, where UPS operates its central hub. "There, they no longer need dolly trains or high loaders, which improves the airport's carbon footprint and speeds up loading and unloading times." He also cited a huge underground water tank at Cologne-Bonn as another measure on the way to becoming a green airport. "In the summer, we use the water to cool the warehouses and terminals, and in the winter to warm them up." Also, last week, Mr. Vaneste said proudly, the first shipment of SAF was received, produced by Finnish provider Neste and financed by a major customer of the airport. This is likely to be UPS, but Mr. Vaneste kept tight-lipped regarding the name.
FRA invests in wind farms
Frankfurt Airport is also taking major steps towards CO2 reduction, as illustrated by Pierre Dominique Pruemm, Senior Executive VP Airside and Terminal Management, Corporate Safety and Security, at operator Fraport. In 2019, 1.7 million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted at Rhine-Main, said the manager. This number will be halved by 2030, he assured. This can be achieved by replacing fossil powered vehicles by electrically driven dollies, forklifts, vehicles, and other ground equipment, coupled with increased effort to reduce power consumption in warehouses and office buildings, by installing solar panels on cargo warehouses and facilities to produce power or the purchase of green electricity, for example from wind farms. Fraport intends to buy a certain annual volume of green energy produced by offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea to up the ratio of CO2 neutral power to 85% by 2025 at the latest. Negotiations about a power purchase agreement with a wind farm operator are well advanced, airport spokesperson Angelika Hainbuch confirmed to CargoForwarder Global.
Central German Airports reduce CO2 emissions considerably
In parallel with the BDL event, the Central German Airports Leipzig-Halle and Dresden report an 86% drop of CO2 emissions for 2020 compared to the year before. This means that the jointly managed airports have already exceeded the sector goal that was envisaged for 2030 at German commercial airports: i.e. to halve greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2010. The decline in emissions has become possible despite the heavy cargo traffic at LEJ Airport, the central global hub of DHL Express and home of freight carrier AeroLogic throughout the C-19 pandemic. Both airports purchase climate-neutral electricity and make use of energy-efficient LED technology. The fleet of ground vehicles is also being gradually switched to alternative drive systems and compensation is being obtained for the CO2 emissions from natural gas.
As a result, 2,770 tons of CO2 were set free at LEJ and DRS in 2020 which corresponds to the decrease mentioned above.
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