Aalborg International Airport – Greener Skies
Aalborg International Airport is establishing itself as a benchmark for environmentally conscious air travel.
Aalborg International Airport is based in the far north of Denmark, alongside the Royal Danish Air Force Transport Wing Aalborg. The airport operates flights to 33 destinations across Europe through scheduled flights, charter flights and leisure flights, and currently employs 260 staff. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Aalborg International Airport served approximately 1.6 million passengers a year. It is an essential part of Denmark’s flight infrastructure, with its facilities handled entirely in-house.
“We are very close to the city of Aalborg. Infrastructure-wise we have a set-up where nothing is outsourced. All our activities are in-house from ramp handling to customer-handling, to providing food and beverages,” says Niels Hemmingsen, CEO of the airport.
Besides services to airlines, Aalborg boasts a direct rail connection, a huge parking area, and an independently owned airport hotel. The airport grounds even support a local police department, as well as a number of private jets.
“We are also unique in the sense that if you look domestically the airport plays a huge role in traffic to and from Copenhagen,” Hemmingsen says.
In short, Aalborg International Airport is a vital piece of flight infrastructure, and so as the airport turns its attention towards the urgent and growing need for environmental sustainability, it is important to get it right.
“We have been driving hard to create a net-zero airport by 2025. That means we have electrified a lot of equipment at the airport, the lighting has switched over to LEDs,” Hemmingsen tells us.
The Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, announced in her new year’s speech a target for Denmark to have 100% green flights by 2030. It is a bold, but not unsurmountable ambition. With Europe as a whole setting a 2055 target for greener aviation fuel, it is clear which way the wind is blowing.
“As far as how it’s possible we’re involved in several projects domestically to look at how to create the volumes of green fuels needed,” Hemmingsen says. “You can imagine there’s a lot of focus on the pricing element to this. We and other airports are pitching hard to be among the first in 2025 and 2030 to be completely green. Everyone is aware of the discussions in this area in a social context. There is a very hard drive to show it is possible to run an aviation business with green fuel going forward.”
A Holistic Approach to Sustainability
Greener fuels are obviously an essential ingredient in any plan to make flight environmentally sustainable, but ultimately Aalborg International Airport is an airport, not an airline, and so that can only be a part of its focus.
“Green fuel is only one aspect of it, and that involves the airline. When it comes to bringing the airport itself to net-zero we need to take into account all the stakeholders of the airport,” Hemmingsen says. “The question for the net-zero scenario is what can the airport itself do?”
The answer, it turns out, is “a lot”.
“We have projects right now to offset some of the footprint we can’t get rid of. This will be done through biodiversity projects. The other part of the solution is that nationally there is a huge drive towards electrification around vehicles and transportation in general,” Hemmingsen tells us. “This means we’re in the process of establishing infrastructure for fuelling up electrical cars at the airport. The airport will change, we do not just talk about CO2 emissions. We are changing and adapting to the future requirements that we see. There’s a lot of activity and it has a huge impact on the future of our airport.”
Achieving net-zero is a long process that requires carefully timed investments into equipment and processes.
“It’s a huge investment, and the challenge is very much about implementing that focus across the organisation and making it clear to the public that this is a drive for the future,” Hemmingsen says.
There are also economic concerns to bear in the mind, ensuring that the aviation sector can remain economically viable as well as environmentally sustainable.
“In terms of green aviation fuel, it is important that we are able to reach a pricing level competitive with existing fuel prices,” Hemmingsen tells us. “At the end of the day if you have green fuel available but the pricing is a factor two, three or four higher compared to traditional fuel prices, the question is who will have to pay for this excess pricing? There will be an interim phase where you need pricing models that are sustainable for the aviation business as a whole. This will be an international issue.”
Aalborg International Airport is going right to the source to address these issues, looking into creating plants to produce the aviation fuel needed.
“The airport plays just one role here, providing infrastructure. There’s an investment to be made, technologies to look into, various ways of creating sustainable solutions,” Hemmingsen acknowledges. “The other challenge for us is continuing our drive and making the investments needed to adjust our carbon output. Right now, I am negotiating different ways to offset the last part of our carbon emissions. We are a part of the ACI group working with this and for us. This is the challenge going forward right now. We are ensuring our stakeholders are doing similar work in offsetting everything that they do. This is what we’re working with right now.”
Sustainable flight is an international challenge, and so to respond to it Hemmingsen is keen for the airport to become more international on a strategic level.
“We’re not a major airport like the capital airports, but we’re a secondary airport, we have certain capacities and we’re working hard on using our position with our close links to the North Atlantic area,” he says. “We’re very focused on the activities going on in Greenland, Iceland, and we have certain industries in the northern part of Denmark that are very interlinked in this region. I truly believe an international airport should have links overseas and this is something we’re working on.”
The aviation industry ten years from now may look very different from the industry today, but Aalborg International Airport shows how it can be a strong one.
Niels Hemmingsen, CEO Kim Bermann, COO & Martin Svendsen, CCO of AIA