Air Cargo Management

Cargo airports walk the talk

Alexandre de Joybert

For Air Cargo Management, ACI Europe’s Alexandre de Joybert explains how cargo airports are playing a key role in aviation’s sustainability ambitions.

Through measures such as carbon emissions reduction, alternative fuels and technologies, energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, collaborations and regulatory compliance, airports work intensively to transform their operations and accelerate the net zero future of the entire sector.

Evidence of emissions reductions

This year, the Airport Carbon Accreditation certification programme celebrated a milestone with more than 500 airports globally now actively engaged in addressing their impact on the climate. These airports have collectively managed to reduce more than half a million tonnes of CO2 in the latest reporting cycle (May 2021- May 2022, -549,643 tCO2e). While airports have long been addressing environmental challenges, there is compelling data lauding the accomplishments of cargo airports specifically in delivering tangible CO2 reductions and putting in place enhanced environmental measures.

More than 50 per cent of the top 20 airports for cargo traffic globally are now certified under the programme (2022 reference year, source ACI). In Europe, out of the top 20 cargo airports, 16 are accredited, with a stark majority of those being at the highest levels of the programme (Level 3 or higher), which points to mature carbon management practices being implemented at those airports, including deep emissions reductions and engagement with third parties in the decarbonisation journey at and around the airport.


Cargo airports partner with airlines, freight forwarders, manufacturers and other stakeholders to develop and implement sustainability initiatives. These collaborations involve sharing best practices, conducting research, developing academic programmes and investing in joint projects that promote environmental responsibility throughout the supply chain.

Working towards sustainable practices with stakeholders implies thinking outside the box and taking bold moves. In 2023, Liege Airport in Belgium introduced landing fees differentiated according to landing times and aircraft noise classification, helping to reduce noise disturbance for the communities around the airport. In addition, the revenue from this new pricing system is being earmarked for biodiversity projects.

Infrastructure and operations

Airports are implementing energy-saving measures across their infrastructure, such as energy-efficient lighting, HVAC systems and optimised ground operations. Airports are also increasingly investing in renewable energy generation, such as onsite photovoltaic plants, to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Airports are crucial in facilitating the transition to alternative fuels in place of standard fossil jet fuel.

In 2022, Hong Kong International Airport, the world’s busiest cargo airport and accredited Level 4 in Airport Carbon Accreditation, joined forces to launch Asia’s first sustainable aviation fuel programme, contributing to the purchase of SAF on Cathay Pacific Cargo flights to reduce the carbon emissions generated by air freight.

By embracing the full range of measures, cargo airports play a key role in achieving aviation’s sustainability objectives and facilitating efficient and environmentally friendly transportation of goods.

This feature was first published in Air Cargo Management – August/September 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.

Liege Airport
Liege Airport is accredited at Level 3 in Airport Carbon Accreditation. Credit: Liege Airport/

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