Published 24/03/2023

The global aviation industry, including domestic and international passenger as well as freight flights, accounts for around 2 per cent of annual CO2 emissions. Here in Scotland, there are organisations that are working on initiatives to reduce the impact the sector has on the environment.

We caught up with Gordon Robertson, Director of Communications and Sustainability at Edinburgh Airport to discuss the work that is being done behind the scenes to make its operations greener.

Edinburgh airport purple tower at night

Edinburgh Airport, purple tower at night. © Edinburgh Airport

Scotland's aviation sector

Scotland's location and its many islands make aviation a crucial service for those who live in and visit our country.

It's that direct connectivity that enhances Scotland's global standing and reputation and allows us to export our knowledge and expertise to the world. Being able to promote the very best of what we have to offer, whilst bringing people to our shores and allowing them to contribute to our economy, culture, education, research, and much more is vital to Scotland's future.

We need to be aware of the important facilitatory role that aviation plays and ensure its ongoing contribution to our economy through investment and employment is fully considered and understood when making decisions and setting future goals. We need to show ambition when identifying new connections and delivering sustainable growth. And we need to ensure the sector, like many others, is involved in discussions about helping Scotland meet its Net Zero future as that success relies on all industries doing what they can.

Our 'Greater Good' sustainability strategy addresses these issues. We must make our business, Scotland's gateway to the world, sustainable and a social and economic asset that serves future generations. To do that, we must carefully consider our impact on the environment and the way we interact with others and act accordingly. We need to have a reasoned conversation about how to balance the desire and need to travel to make our industry greener. It's a challenge for all sectors but particularly for ours.

Airports of the future

The global aviation industry produces around 2 per cent of all human-produced CO2 emissions and collectively the sector has been working for many years to proactively reduce that figure.

In the UK, the industry has invested heavily in newer and more efficient aircraft, with the UK fleet improving fuel efficiency by more than 13 per cent since 2005. This will be further improved by another 22 per cent by 2050 as new aircraft are delivered.

In addition to this, new technology will continue to be introduced. We are likely to see short distance electric flights taking off as soon as this year, while the constant strive for innovation around hydrogen continues at pace.

Airports are also looking at how they can improve their operations and we are no different. Edinburgh Airport is carbon neutral, and we are incredibly proud of that, but we are striving to do more. We've introduced more electric cars to our fleet and are working with our partners to decarbonise the ground handling services. Through our airspace change process, which seeks to modernise the skies we operate in, we will put forward proposals which will see Edinburgh Airport save more carbon than any other of the proposals being put forward by UK airports.

Solar power

We're really excited about our solar farm project which will be installed on our airfield and will be the first of its kind in the UK.

The farm will be eleven-acres and we're lucky to have the space within the campus to construct something that will provide around 27 per cent of our energy needs once it is operational. The 9.7MWh solar farm, with 1.5MWh battery storage, will also supply 40 electric vehicle charging points for staff and passengers, which will be located at two locations across the airport campus. This is a great example of how we can provide a sustainable future for the airport.


Another project we are enthused about is our partnership with local organisation Katrick Technologies. The study will focus around harnessing wind power as a renewable energy resource. We're excited to be working with a company that is based and founded in Scotland as it is an opportunity to demonstrate the country's expertise in renewables.

The project will see Katrick install several wind mapping sensors across the estate, including on the roof and around the runway, to examine areas of unexploited low-level wind power. We hope this data will allow us to identify the optimal areas to capture and convert energy, so that we can install wind panels to take advantage of this.

Most would think of wind energy and automatically assume that turbines are the only option, however as an airport we aren't able to consider them due to the impact they have on our radar. Katrick have devices that are far smaller and capture more kinetic energy than conventional wind turbines.

If it works, then this gives the airport another opportunity to generate additional green energy and become more efficient.


Scotland has an amazing opportunity to become an international hub for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) thanks to its expertise across several different industries and it's important that we grasp this opportunity with both hands.
SAF offers us a bridge towards full decarbonisation. We know new technology is coming but we need to bridge the gap between now and that time. The development and commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuels over the next decade is vital to providing a solution to greenhouse gas emissions caused by flying. They offer significant life-cycle carbon reduction gains (at least 70 per cent) and are cleaner burning, with up to 90 per cent reduction in particulates. Alongside the introduction of new, cleaner fleet and engine technology, and airspace modernisation, there is a willingness and want to change.

Increasing the availability and use of SAF in Scotland could have a seismic impact on the whole industry's footprint and if we can prove it works, and airports can prove airlines want to use it and play their part, then we could have a model for the world. We could be truly word-leading where others actually look to follow rather than just setting targets. We are part of the Forth Green Freeport partnership and that is a project that can deliver green jobs, skills development, and investment - all things that can place Scotland on solid foundations for the just transition. We're also making it easier for our own vehicles and our partners vehicles to use sustainable fuels like hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) rather than diesel. HVO is a renewable diesel alternative that eliminates up to 90 per cent of net carbon dioxide emissions whilst also offering significant savings on nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions.

Energy saving operations

Given the breadth of our operations there are a range of things we look at, including the installation of LED lighting throughout the terminal and obtaining all our electricity from renewables. We've also introduced fixed ground power supplies on stands to charge planes rather than using diesel engines.

One of the projects we are looking into is something that will benefit the campus as well as people and households neighbouring us. We are exploring the plausibility of building a heat network within our campus boundary and providing energy to up to 10,000 homes that neighbour the airport. We have the space to build the infrastructure and it would be another 'bridge' for the airport to do what it can to provide sustainable solutions for us and others while technology catches up.

We've also introduced a pledge to strengthen the whole campus approach to sustainability, including decarbonisation and created a partnership which works with the whole supply chain. It focuses on a range of sustainability related criteria and encourages suppliers to sign the pledge and work with us to improve the overall approach across the airport. It's gained some really good feedback and it's a great way of seeing what steps our partners are taking to future proof the airport.

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