Sustainability

NZ Airports

New Zealand’s airports are among the world leaders in sustainability practices.

Our Sustainability Working Group collaborates on sustainability issues so all airports, large and small, can make practical progress on emissions reduction, climate adaptation, waste reduction, green building standards and renewable energy projects.

NZ Airports brings aviation stakeholders and policy makers together to progress a decarbonisation strategy that’s right for New Zealand. We are a member of Sustainable Aviation Aotearoa, the government-industry partnership, and we co-chair its Strategy Working Group. Through the Airports Council International, airports in New Zealand participate in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme that independently assesses and recognises airports’ efforts to manage and reduce their CO2 emissions. NZ Airports is also a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)’s Sustainable Airports Platform, which brings together airports at the global level for collaboration on sustainability, with a strong focus on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

Airports are setting sustainability benchmarks for critical infrastructure assets around New Zealand.

Decarbonising aviation is a critical mission for New Zealand. Domestic aviation accounts for 6.3% of New Zealand’s emissions, which ranks us sixth in the world for total aviation emissions per capita. This is due to a number of factors, from our remote location in the South Pacific and our mountainous terrain, to our geographically dispersed population and large tourism market. 

Aviation is acknowledged throughout the world as one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise. This presents a huge challenge to our country because aviation is so important to us. New Zealand is more socially and economically dependent on the aircraft that fly between our airports than most other nations in the world.

At the same time, aviation is changing. Internationally, airlines are committing to emissions reduction.  Technology is putting low-emissions aircraft within our reach, and travellers are becoming more sensitive to the carbon impact of flying, especially for long distances.

New Zealand is committed to net zero carbon emissions for international aviation as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).  The Climate Change Commission is also developing advice on whether our 2050 climate target should be amended to include emissions from international aviation.

It is for these reasons that decarbonising aviation is so critical – to meet New Zealand’s international climate commitments, to be prepared for the next generation of sustainable aircraft and to secure the country’s long-term economic viability as an exporting nation and tourism destination.

If we are to decarbonise aviation, our airports must lead the way.  While airports contribute only a small fraction of our aviation emissions, they are the foundation infrastructure of the wider aviation industry and therefore play a pivotal role in the decarbonisation of the sector.  Airports have the responsibility not only to support our industry partners to decarbonise, but to move ahead of industry expectations and make measurable progress on multiple fronts.  

Around New Zealand, airports are rising to this challenge.

Preparing New Zealand for Sustainable Aviation

Sustainable aviation is developing rapidly worldwide, fueled by innovations from electric aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels. Next-generation aircraft are already being trialled in New Zealand, and fully electric flights are set to commence within several years. 

The benefits that sustainable aviation will bring to New Zealand are significant.  These include reduced emissions and more affordable air travel, reduced reliance on imported fossil fuels, a more convenient network of ‘short-hop’ connections between regions, the creation of new jobs and economic opportunities, and support for sustainable tourism.

It will be years before sustainable aviation is widespread, but we can be sure it is coming and the pace at which it will arrive in New Zealand will depend entirely on the investments made now by our airports in the right infrastructure and technologies, from alternative fueling systems and electric charging stations to on-site renewable energy generation.

Testing Next-Generation Aircraft in Partnership with Airlines

New Zealand is a popular destination for new aircraft testing due to its favourable climate and its diverse airspace. A number of New Zealand airports have hosted tests for a range of next-generation aircraft, including electric-powered aircraft and others that can run on sustainable fuels as alternatives to fossil fuels.

For example, Wellington and Marlborough airports are now partnering with Air New Zealand to host its future commercial demonstrator aircraft, the BETA ALIA battery-powered all-electric aircraft. The initial service from this aircraft will focus on cargo only and aims to start by 2026. This initiative is part of Air New Zealand’s broader ‘Mission Next Gen Aircraft’ strategy to continue to decarbonise its fleet from 2030. The partner airports will act as leaders and information conduits for other airports as the airline prepares for a larger fleet replacement from 2030 onwards.

Powering Electric Aviation

Around New Zealand, airports are developing the necessary infrastructure to support the arrival of electric aviation.

Kowhai Park, a large-scale solar farm initiative at Christchurch Airport, is setting the stage for sustainable aviation in New Zealand by supplying renewable electricity at scale for zero/low-emission flights. The project is the largest of its kind at an airport globally and involved detailed studies to match the energy generation to future aviation requirements.

Phase One of the project will see a 150MW solar array capable of generating 290 GWh of electricity per year. The energy produced will sustainably power the airport campus and future aviation activities, including terminal requirements, future electric plane charging and the production of SAFs for air transport.

In aviation terms, this could result in approximately half of Christchurch’s domestic flights being converted to low-emission technologies. By way of comparison to domestic electricity needs, this is equivalent to meeting the annual energy demands of approximately 36,000 homes.

Besides enhancing operational efficiency and resilience, the project also acts as a blueprint for other airports, both nationally and internationally, in their efforts to transition to renewable energy.

Supporting Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Sustainable aviation fuel will play a crucial role in reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.  Made from biomass or other sustainable feedstocks, SAF is a cleaner, direct replacement for fossil jet fuel and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil jet fuel.  New Zealand airports are preparing for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in a number of ways:

First, they’re ensuring that fueling infrastructure, such as storage or blending facilities, are fit for purpose.  SAF is already able to be delivered to aircraft via Auckland Airport’s refuelling hydrant system, and the airport is engaging with its airline partners to understand their future requirements for alternative aircraft fuels and technologies.  Wellington Airport is also working towards a trial of Sustainable Aviation Fuel. 

They’re working with industry and international partners to understand their ambitions for the use of SAF and accelerate its use in New Zealand.  For example, Auckland and Christchurch Airports have both supported an agreement between New Zealand and Singapore which could see “green lane flights” introduced between the two countries that use a percentage of SAF. 

Airports are also working with airlines and fuel suppliers to develop and implement SAF supply chains. This includes coordinating the logistics of transporting and storing SAF, as well as developing pricing and contracting mechanisms. For example, Auckland Airport is working with Air New Zealand and Neste, a Finnish renewable fuels company, to import SAF into New Zealand.

Championing Green Hydrogen

Aircraft manufacturers worldwide are making prototype planes that can run on green hydrogen, a zero-emissions fuel that holds significant promise for aviation. But planes are just one part of making this new fuel work. New Zealand will need a whole system to make, keep, and move hydrogen fuel and to put it in planes, and airports will play a key role.

In 2023, Christchurch Airport hosted the launch of the New Zealand Hydrogen Aviation Consortium. As one of six members of the consortium, the airport is helping to lay the foundations for a hydrogen ecosystem for aviation, which could help New Zealand cut up to 900,000 tonnes of carbon emissions by 2050. 

The consortium estimates that New Zealand could eventually use up to 100,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year, mainly for fueling planes at major airports like Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Green hydrogen is integral to the decarbonisation of New Zealand’s domestic aviation network, and airports are committed to playing a key role alongside our industry and government partners. 

Showing net zero is possible and profitable on an industrial scale

Airports are large industrial complexes that have a high profile within the communities they serve. A number of our airports have embraced the responsibility this brings by taking on the role of a regional exemplar for decarbonisation. In doing so, they are demonstrating that striving for net zero is not only possible for a ‘hard to abate’ sector such as aviation, but that it also makes good business sense. 

A growing number of New Zealand airports have committed to significant emissions reductions by 2030.

Many have also signed up Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA), an independent programme that assesses and recognises the efforts of airports to manage and reduce their carbon emissions.

Auckland, Christchurch, Hawke’s Bay, Palmerston North and Hamilton Airports have reached the highest levels of accreditation in the programme, for the reduction and management of scope 1 and 2 emissions, and engagement with airlines and other stakeholders on scope 3 emissions reduction strategies.

Reducing Scope 1 and 2 Emissions

Reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions which come from airports’ owned or controlled sources are foundational steps that airports in New Zealand are taking to directly cut down their carbon footprints. 

Fundamental to this is reducing embodied emissions in the construction of an airport complex. A great example of this in New Zealand is the Gisborne Airport passenger terminal that was built using carbon positive engineered timber in place of concrete and steel and using passive heating technologies to reduce the need for air conditioning.

Other airports have shown their commitment by replacing natural gas boilers with electric boilers, and by facilitating the uptake and use of more electric vehicles. 

Reducing scope 3 emissions are secondary steps that are being taken to cut emissions created by suppliers, such as allowing aircraft to connect with ground power rather than using fossil fuels, and by working with Airways NZ to adjust flight paths to ensure maximum efficiency of fuel use. 

Electrifying Boilers

One significant source of emissions reduction has been through the replacement of natural gas boilers.  Around the country, airports are replacing conventional gas boilers with electricity as an energy source for heating.  

Auckland Airport is transitioning from natural gas to electric power for its air conditioning system – the largest system in New Zealand – to reduce its carbon emissions. The switch targets the international terminal, which contributes significantly to the airport’s Scope 1 carbon emissions. The new electric HVAC system will feature innovative heat pump technology capable of both warming and cooling air.

This move is part of Auckland Airport’s broader plan to achieve a 90% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. The change in energy source will coincide with other planned construction projects at the airport, and it’s one of the first steps in a larger sustainability strategy that includes solar power and low global warming potential refrigerants.

Introducing Electric Vehicles

Airports around New Zealand are electrifying their vehicle fleets to reduce their emissions.

In addition to light vehicles, Auckland Airport and Wellington Airport are both using electric buses to transport passengers between the airport terminal and the city center or other locations. Auckland Airport has 15 electric buses in its fleet, and Wellington Airport has 10.

Christchurch Airport is also trialing an electric fire truck.

In 2021, Wellington Airport purchased 10 electric buses to transport passengers between the airport terminal and the city center. The airport also has a number of electric vehicles for its own operations, such as baggage tugs and airport security vehicles.  In 2022, the airport announced that it would be replacing its fleet of 10 diesel buses with electric buses.

Scope Three Emissions

Airports are also tackling scope 3 emissions, such as emissions from airlines, suppliers, and even the travel emissions of passengers getting to and from the airport. While scope 3 emissions are more challenging to reduce than scope 1 and 2, a number of initiatives are place which are already having a tangible impact. 

Auckland Airport is installing ground power units (GPUs) and pre-conditioned air (PCA) systems at all international and domestic gates. These installations allow aircraft to connect to New Zealand’s low-carbon electricity supply, eliminating the need to burn jet fuel while parked at the gate. This move is part of a broader strategy to make the most of the country’s clean energy resources and reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

Airports also work closely with Airways, New Zealand’s Air Traffic Service provider, to reduce emissions from aircraft.  This involves providing information on traffic profiles, density and flow rates, approach conditions and runways in use, enabling airlines and pilots to choose departure and arrival times and flight profiles which minimise delays and reduce fuel burn.

Circular Economy

Airports are major contributors to global waste, with some estimates suggesting they generate over 322,000 tons of waste annually. Transitioning to a circular economy approach, in which waste is diverted from landfills and reused where possible, is crucial for reducing this environmental impact. As hubs of local and international travel, airports also have a the responsibility to set an example for passengers, driving home the importance of taking care with waste. 

Christchurch Airport has undertaken an innovative “waste to circularity” project, transforming its waste management practices with a focus on sustainability. Launched in 2021, the airport implemented a new strategy to minimise landfill waste by conducting New Zealand’s largest waste audit, sorting 1,000 kg of waste, and installing a permanent waste sorting station.

As a result of the initiative, the airport successfully increased its waste diversion rate by 50% within six months, equating to an expected annual reduction of around 203,880 kg of waste and 42 tons of CO2 emissions. The initiative not only positions Christchurch Airport as a leader in circular economy practices, but also promises financial savings estimated at $24,000 per annum due to upcoming increases in waste levies. 

Embodied Carbon

Airports are major infrastructure projects that often require large amounts of materials and energy for construction and operation. The embodied carbon in these materials, meaning the carbon emissions produced during their extraction, manufacture, and transport, contributes significantly to an airport’s overall carbon footprint. This means it is becoming increasingly important for airports to make efforts to reduce embodied carbon in their structures. 

Gisborne Airport’s new terminal building sets a strong example for sustainable construction. The redevelopment aimed to modernise the existing, outdated terminal while keeping the airport running smoothly. The design incorporates local cultural elements like landside walls made from local Greywacke rock, and airside sections featuring extensive glazing to represent sky and travel. 

Importantly, the building is designed to be Living Building Challenge compliant, focusing on sustainability and reducing embodied carbon. For instance, the use of timber purlins instead of steel resulted in a carbon reduction of 38 tonnes, showing that mindful material choices can have a significant environmental impact.

Accelerating the renewable energy transition in every region of New Zealand

The transition from fossil fuel-powered to electric aviation will place an unprecedented demand on airport electrical systems.

For example, Christchurch Airport has estimated that ground battery charging stations will require 3MW of capacity at peak for a single aircraft – the equivalent to the current peak demand for the entire Airport terminal across all its operations.

This massive increase in forecast electricity demand is incentivising more and more airports to become renewable energy generators in their own right, and to advocate for the government to set higher renewable electricity generation targets for New Zealand.

Generating Renewable Energy

Across New Zealand, many airports are harnessing their open areas and rooftop space to create solar farms.  These installations not only power airport operations but can also supply their wider precincts. 

In 2023, Christchurch airport announced the development of Kōwhai Park, a new renewable energy hub that will be home to one of the country’s largest solar arrays.

The first phase of Kōwhai Park is a 150-megawatt (MW) solar farm, which could generate enough electricity to power over 50,000 homes and reduce Christchurch Airport’s carbon emissions by over 200,000 tonnes per year.

At Auckland Airport, the installation of rooftop solar arrays on the Transport Hub and Mānawa Bay Premium Outlet Shopping Centre is underway. Combined, these solar arrays will produce 3.5 megawatts of energy, creating a resilient and renewable form of energy for the Airport precinct. 

Additionally, rooftop solar arrays will generate 3.5 megawatts of renewable energy and over 100,000 tonnes of concrete from old runways are being reused in new constructions. These initiatives not only contribute to a lower carbon footprint but are also proving to be cost-effective, demonstrating that achieving net zero carbon on an industrial scale can be both feasible and profitable.

Among regional airports, Hamilton and Gisborne Airports already have solar farms operating to power terminals and ancillary buildings and contribute to regional renewable energy supply.

Hawkes Bay Airport and Manawa Energy have entered into a joint venture agreement to confirm the viability of, and then establish and construct, a solar farm at Hawkes Bay Airport. 

Airports as Batteries

There is also considerable potential for airports to feed renewable energy back into the national grid, helping to stabilise the national grid and balance peak demand. Transpower has identified this potential and has encouraged airports to engage with local electricity distribution companies and with local councils’ planning on future regional electricity infrastructure needs as GM Grid Development, John Clarke, discussed at NZ Airports’ Sustainable Airports, Sustainable Communities event in 2023:

“It could also make airports very interesting players in the electricity market… you’ve got solar panels, you’ve got some batteries, you’ve got the supply from your local distribution company or if you’re big enough, supply direct from Transpower. Then you could do some really interesting things to minimise your costs and also help with the overall transition by the way you use electricity.” 

Looking ahead, airports in New Zealand have a promising role to play in not just reducing their own carbon footprints, but also in contributing to the nation’s renewable energy goals.

Future developments in decarbonised aviation and industrial parks could leverage the initial investments in electrical infrastructure to both export and import electricity, balancing grid demand and aiding in the national transition to sustainable energy.