There are no prizes for realising that the UK aviation industry is currently in the depths of its biggest crisis in history, with most issues either created - or at least exacerbated - by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consumer and traveller confidence have never been so low and combined with governmental and industry regulations, many flights remain grounded, with those that are taking to the skies flying at much-reduced capacities. Perhaps most depressingly, nobody in the sector (or any other for that matter) is able to forecast when things will get better.

On top of the current disaster, the UK aviation sector has targets on its mind…ones that will be costly if unrealised. Notably, it has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set the global challenges of:

  • A cap on net aviation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 2020 (carbon neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2b emissions of 50% by 2050, relevant to 2005 levels.

An example of how these and other targets and enforcements on UK aviation are having tangible and serious impacts is Heathrow Airport. Only a few months ago, the UK Court of Appeal upheld Heathrow’s third runway as unlawful, as the government failed to account for the Paris climate agreement’s goals to hold global temperature rises to 1.5°C or well below 2°C. Not only was this a huge blow for Heathrow, but it marked the first time a major infrastructure project was halted due to carbon targets, forcing all others across the country to sit up and take note – carbon rulings are serious and they aren’t going away.

Shining a light specifically on UK aviation, approximately 7% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are attributed to the UK aviation sector – a sobering amount considering that less than 2% of global GHG levels are attributed to aviation. There is therefore much work to be done here in the UK, and this starts with stakeholder collaboration.

Quite simply, our challenges can only be met if the entire sector – airports, airlines, travellers and its supply chains - are involved and integrated. Make no mistake that once this crippling pandemic alleviates, carbon reduction will be aviation’s key issue. With so many pressures on airports from legislative, budgetary, cashflow and customer experience perspectives, it’s a far from easy time.

Through scopes 1 and 2 of the Airport Carbon Accreditation Scheme, airports must fully consider the carbon emissions that they can control - such as electricity, gas, airport vehicles, refrigerants, staff travel, water usage/treatment, and heating/generators.

They must also consider, via scope 3 of the accreditation, the abundance of other emissions that they have influence, if not full control, over, including passenger and employee travel, aircraft cruise and descent emissions, and emissions from take-off and landing cycles.

As part of the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme, airports manage and reduce their carbon emissions associated with four levels of certification:

  • Level 1 - expects an airport to measure scope 1 and 2, and have clear policies in place to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Level 2 - expects airports to show they are progressively reducing their carbon emissions every three years.
  • Level 3 - expects airports to consider scope 3 by engaging with the airlines on how they can reduce their aircraft emissions. One way they can engage with airlines is by encouraging them to adopt ACAOs Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) scheme and aircraft CO² standards.
  • Level 4 - expects airports to offset their scope 1 and 2 emissions in addition to implementing the above 3 levels.

As part of the CORSIA scheme, airlines are expected to offset any carbon emissions which exceed their 2020 carbon levels. However, given 2020 is not a normal year due to the pandemic, this probably should be based on 2019 carbon levels. It is forecast that around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 will be mitigated by 2035 through this scheme alone!

How Capita can help

We’re an expert provider of consulting and operational services to the aviation sector. In terms of helping airports offset their carbon emissions, we have a clear set of proven solutions and options. For example, using the most recent aviation-specific carbon estimation tools on the market, we can estimate the baseline carbon associated with an airport’s operations - including all transport, construction and of course aircraft emissions considered.

We recommend energy-saving technologies and initiatives to help reduce carbon emissions to assist with meeting predefined reduction targets. This can include the adoption of renewable energy sources, sustainable aviation fuels, fleet upgrades, low energy/LED lighting, EV fleets, fixed electrical ground power for aircraft, low energy buildings, and carbon capture and storage options.

We can also prepare a carbon roadmap highlighting how the implementation of phased adoption of our recommendations and technologies will help achieve net zero carbon or carbon-neutral emissions status, and undertake annual CO2 estimates to show how targets are being met.

Crucially, throughout the process, our team of carbon and aviation experts take into consideration the International Civil Aviation Organisations (ICAO) COcertification standard to new aircraft and the ICAO’s CORSIA scheme to help estimate emissions for aircraft operators and their CO2 offsetting requirements.

Never in history has there been such strong and multi-dimensional focus on the aviation sector’s carbon emissions output, from government, business, and consumers. The financial, environmental, and ethical consequences of failing to meet clearly defined targets are too damaging for airports to contemplate, so it’s imperative that they act now in order to succeed and thrive in the years ahead.

For those airports that need a reliable, expert partner to travel this historical journey with, get in touch.

Written by


Dr Xiangyu Sheng

Director of Climate Change and Air Quality, GL Hearn (part of Capita Plc)

Dr Sheng is leading our air quality and climate change team to provide solutions to the most complex challenges. She has over 25 years' experience and is a Fellow of the Meteorological Society (FRMets), a Chartered Engineer (CEng), a Chartered Physicist (CPhys), a Chartered Scientist (CSci) and a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv).


Ruairi Martin BEng (Hons) DIS CEng MIStructE

Aviation Director, Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure

As Aviation Director for Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure and a Chartered Structural Engineer, Ruairi is passionate about promoting our expertise to the Aviation Industry, both nationally and globally and in using cross sector innovation to provide environmentally sustainable solutions. Ruairi has over 30 years experience in the construction industry and has involved in major projects in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and South America as well as in the UK and Europe.

More of our insights

Read more

Thinking about your organisation?

Get in touch
Scroll Top