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A catalyst for change

Matt Gorman, Director of Sustainability talks about driving sustainable behaviour throughout the aviation industry.

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With climate change now a global focus and an issue we must confront collectively, businesses the length and breadth of Britain are busy evaluating the impact of their operations and how they can improve. 

Quite rightly, many of these conversations will focus on what can and should be achieved ‘at home’; but real and significant change is often only accomplished by working with partners and others throughout the supply chain. 

What Heathrow is doing

At Heathrow, as well as getting our own house in order, we’ve deployed a series of initiatives that aim to encourage and reward behavioural change from the companies that we work with, putting sustainability front and centre of planning, operations and even contracts.  

This isn’t just about tackling the carbon challenge. Reducing noise and air pollution is just as important to us because of its impact on our colleagues and local communities – but that’s something we’ve been working to address since the 1970s.

Sustainability issues are increasingly complex and the need to tackle them has become increasingly urgent. And we’re by no means the only ones in the aviation sector trying to find answers.

Matt Gorman , Director of Sustainability , Heathrow


Working with airlines to offset carbon emissions

Our approach has been to open up the airport as a testbed for autonomous electric passenger transport, increasing the number of electric vehicles used on site, providing in-kind support to sustainable aviation fuel projects with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, restoring UK peatlands to offset carbon emissions, or establishing Heathrow’s Centre of Excellence which is a hub of research, learning and exploration.

Airlines have also shown their own leadership in this field. In particular IAG’s recent announcement to offset all UK domestic flights from 2020 and commit to net zero carbon flights by 2050, the first airline group in the world to do so. And earlier this year month Altalto, British Airways’ sustainable fuels collaboration with Shell and Velocys, submitted its planning application to develop a state-of-the-art plant to turn half-a-million tonnes of everyday waste into sustainable aviation fuel each year.

Returning to Heathrow - some of our greatest successes have been, and will continue to be, delivered in partnership with our airlines. 

Heathrow’s incentives for a greener airport

One of Heathrow’s most exciting incentives is our reward for the first electric-hybrid aircraft put into regular service at the airport. In a world airport first, we have committed to waiving the landing charges for an entire year. The prize will be worth up to £1 million to the winning company.  Stuttgart Airport are now the first German airport to offer a comparable incentive.

Similarly, our landing charges for airlines vary depending on the environmental impact of the aircraft they operate at Heathrow. It is no coincidence that it costs the loudest and dirtiest aircraft around 11 times more to land at the airport than the quietest and cleanest. The policy is both a carrot and stick. 

The data shows these measures are making a big difference – the area of our noise footprint has reduced by 26% between 2006 and 2017; and in 2018, only 0.06% of all aircraft movements at Heathrow were by aircraft in the noisiest (Chapter 3) category.  

Our Fly Quiet and Green league table has become a real asset in our arsenal. Every quarter we rank our top 50 airlines across a variety of metrics. It helps our airline customers gain the recognition they deserve for their achievements, while creating healthy competition.

In my role, I’m always conscious of how much more there is that we can do. I welcome advice on where we take our commitments to sustainability next.

Matt Gorman , Director of Sustainability , Heathrow


Should the league table cover other metrics – perhaps carbon emissions or airline food waste? Should we direct passengers to the ranking when they book a ticket? How can we create much longer-term agreements with airlines and throw more support behind sustainable fuels and electric aircraft? 

To achieve the results we’re striving for, we need a coordinated effort. If we work in a siloed way, we will not find solutions that work well for all. But it’s not just businesses that need to work together – Government must support the effort, too.

I was encouraged by the announcement to invest £80m in supporting industry’s efforts to expedite the arrival of carbon-neutral flights and electric vehicles. Frankly, though, it’s not enough. Over £4 billion is raised annually through Air Passenger Duty and our call is for this money to be reinvested to scale-up the production of sustainable fuels.  

If we’re to usher in the era of sustainable flight and hit our national target of net-zero carbon by 2050, we need three things to happen concurrently: incentives, investment and innovation.