Virginia’s flight plan to a greener aviation industry

Virginia is embarking on a 66-airport-strong sustainability initiative — the biggest pilot project of its kind in the United States.

Airports face many of the same sustainability challenges as other facilities with a large employee base and a steady stream of visitors, such as retail centers or sports arenas: high energy and water use, lots of waste to dispose of and varying socio-economic impacts for employees and neighboring communities.

Yet airports also face some unique considerations: the potential for major water quality challenges, such as pollution from aircraft deicing; substantial noise generation, which comes with implications for both ecological and land use compatibility; and emissions that may affect local air quality.

“We are excited at the opportunity to address sustainability across all airports in our state system,” said Randy Burdette, executive director of the Virginia Department of Aviation. “This pilot program will be the first of its kind and will address key policy issues and provide valuable guidance to any of our 66 public use airports.”

As essential economic hubs and flagship facilities in their communities, many airports are looking for new on-the-ground opportunities to help overcome these challenges. At the same time, the aviation sector more broadly is making efforts to become more efficient, from aircraft design to changes in routing to the use of aviation biofuels and large-scale carbon offsets.

“Opportunities abound to reduce the cost of operations, to generate new revenue streams and reduce the environmental footprint at airports across the country,” said Peter Trick, an executive vice president with consulting firm Cadmus.
In early 2015, Cadmus was enlisted to help the Virginia Department of Aviation implement a first-of-its-kind initiative to create a sustainability plan that will serve all of the Commonwealth’s 66 public-use airports.

Funded primarily by the Federal Aviation Administration, the project will create the first statewide airport sustainability management plan in the United States to include all types and sizes of public-access airports.
The plan will accommodate a range of facilities, from large airports with many hundreds of commercial flights daily to small, general aviation and local service airports with turf runways.