Airports group sets zero emission challenge to airlines

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has pledged to become a net zero carbon business by 2038 – 12 years ahead of the UK aviation industry’s target – and challenged airlines to fly the first zero emission commercial flight from one of its bases.

MAG operates Manchester, East Midlands and London Stansted Airports, and said it will give five years’ free landing fees, worth up to £1.3m in today’s prices, to the first carrier to meet the challenge, the first of its kind in the industry.

The competition comes as the group publishes its annual CSR (corporate social responsibility) Report. Its zero carbon pledge aligns with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s 2038 environmental targets.

As well as the net zero carbon commitment, MAG has committed to a series of community targets, such as investing £100,000 a year in supporting local projects, and education and employment goals, including supporting the education of 50,000 young people.

Airlines taking part in the competition to win the free landing fees will be given free rein in their choice of low-emission technology, including electric and hydrogen technology.

Global manufacturer Airbus, which has a key wing-making plant in Broughton, near Chester, last month revealed three concept ‘ZEROe’ hydrogen powered commercial aircraft, which could carry up to 200 passengers from the UK across Europe from 2035.

The first commercial-grade six-seater aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell was also showcased at Cranfield University in September.

Sustainable Aviation, the UK aviation industry’s sustainability group, has forecast that the sector can expect to see the first zero emission regional or short-haul flight in around 10-15 years’ time.

MAG’s initiative will complement the full range of measures needed to help the UK reach its Net Zero 2050 target, including modernising UK airspace, sustainable aviation fuels, smart flight operations and new aircraft technology.

Today’s announcement comes as the Government’s Jet Zero Council, of which MAG is a founding member, prepares to meet for a second time in the coming days.

Karen Smart, managing director of Manchester Airport, said: “At Manchester Airport we have always been extremely proud of the region we serve, and we owe a great deal to the local communities around the airport. This is why we place such an emphasis on supporting those communities as well as remaining ambitious in our approach to sustainability.

“There will always be more we can do, which is why we are setting our sights on seeing zero-carbon aircraft on our runway in the next 10-15 years, along with a commitment to be a net zero-carbon business by 2038.

“While coronavirus will have an impact on our business for some time to come, we cannot take our eye off the need for sustainable growth in the long-term, and these plans will set us on the right course to achieve this.”

Neil Robinson, CSR and airspace change director, MAG, said: “When our airports prosper our communities around them prosper, but in tougher times we can help support each other, too.

“We have a long history of working very closely in our local communities and, for us, sustainability means more than just reducing carbon, it means becoming a business that has long standing, sustainable relationships with our environment, people and communities at all levels.”