How can airports reduce air pollution?

How can airports reduce air pollution?

How can airports reduce air pollution? Air traffic management (ATM) encompasses all systems that assist aircraft in taking off from airspace transit and landing, including all aspects of aeronautical meteorology, air traffic control, and air navigation systems. ATM continuously faces challenges in managing the increasing client demands for air transportation. Particularly, providers of air navigation services have the mandate of improving pertinent air control issues, enhancing the safety of both workers and clients, as well as ensuring efficiency at reduced environmental costs. Air pollution has been associated with diverse health concerns and climate conservation challenges, making it an area of great importance in managing air quality. It is, therefore, imperative that all relevant stakeholders, including air transport leaders, manufacturers, governments, and governing bodies, develop mechanisms, including legislation, to ensure that air service providers focus on utilizing positive management practices for environmental conservation. Various pollutants caused by aviation practices affect air quality around airports, posing a real health problem.

Many aircraft are designed to combust their fuel efficiency with very low emissions of smoke or non-combusted discharges. Most manufacturers fit aircraft engines with turboprop and turbofan to increase efficiency in fuel combustion (Thales, 2014). Despite all these improvements, the increase in air travel demand has overstretched the air transport industry with increased travel, making the realization of pollutant-accessible airport environments a significant challenge. Moreover, aircraft movements while on the ground, during landing and taking off, produce significant pollutant emissions, affecting air quality around airports (Thales, 2014). Road traffic and other machinery, such as forklifts, cranes, and other mechanical operations around the airport culminate in the emission of high concentrations of harmful particulate matter and gases. This poses a health risk to communities living around the airport, including personnel and travelers. Moreover, this significantly threatens the surrounding natural environment and negatively affects air quality.

Some emissions, for example, from the combustion of jet fuel, have been associated with adverse health impacts, such as nasal, throat, larynx, lung, and brain cancers (Mark J. & Mark W., 2000). Besides, emissions from aircraft are closely associated with the development of diverse infections that contribute to asthma, leukemia, lymphoma, and congenital disabilities. This culminated in the European Commission’s proposing to bring air transport activities into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to combat various climatic changes resulting from aircraft emissions (Keane, 2012). According to the commission, greenhouse emissions from the aviation industry increased by nearly eighty-seven percent in the European Union alone between¬† 1990 and 2006 (Keane, 2012). The commission proposed the taxation of air travel associated with emissions to ensure that total external aviation costs are considered.

Pollutants in the Environment Caused by Aviation

Of most significant concern is the emission of nitrogen dioxide around airport environments. Sources indicate this gas is the primary environmental pollutant emission threat that has changed the global climate on an alarming scale (Owen et al., 2010). Usually, nitrogen dioxide emission follows increased ground activity by aircraft, surface traffic, and other machinery operations within the airport. These produce nitrogen oxide, the precursor of nitrogen dioxide. In the lower atmosphere environment, nitrogen oxide contributes to ozone production. In the lower atmosphere, ozone is a significant pollutant contributing to diverse unfavorable climates and global warming concerns. High-altitude supersonic aircraft produce nitrogen oxides linked to damage to the protective stratospheric ozone layer, which helps in the filtration of harmful solar radiations (Environmental Protection UK, 2012; Rojo, 2007).

Jet emissions contain particulate matter that affects the environment. According to studies, the combustion of jet fuels culminates in the release of benzpyrene as a byproduct of incomplete combustion that usually comes out with soot (Rojo, 2007). This chemical is highly carcinogenic and is a causative agent of many cancers and tumors in human beings culminating from skin and lung adsorptions. Besides, the combustion of jet fuel has been associated with high amounts of sulfur dioxide. This harmful gas can cause severe irritation of the eyes and airway tracts. Literature indicates that jet fuel contains high concentrations of sulfur, nearly 1000ppm, compared to 10ppm in diesel (Mark J. & Mark W., 2000). During combustion, this is converted into harmful sulfur dioxide, transmitted into the atmosphere, compromising air quality.

Other harmful emissions include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide. VOCs can include, for example, carcinogenic benzene and some forms of aldehydes that can cause skin, eyes, and air tract irritation (Mark J. & Mark W., 2000). Volatile organic substances usually originate from vaporized fuel or incompletely combusted material that exits as exhaust gas. In some instances, the volatile compounds attach to particulate materials and escape into the air, culminating in compromised air quality around the airport. Carbon dioxide emanates from the combustion of organic fuels. It is a significant contributor to climatic deterioration and global warming.

Sources indicate that this chemical is produced in large quantities from aircraft activities in the United States and other highly developed airports with a lot of jet activity (Rojo, 2007). The resulting emissions find their way into the environment, adversely affecting air quality. This readily predisposes the populations living around airports, air travel personnel, and travelers too dangerous environmental and health concerns. According to the Danish Ecocouncil (2012), jet emissions usually affect a radius of twenty-five miles around the airport area. This implies that communities, animals, and crop plants are dusted with toxic jet emissions within a distance of twenty-five miles away from the airport every day. Typically, airports spew harmful pollutants in hundreds of tons annually worldwide. The flow of air currents ensures that the toxic pollutants reach water bodies, negatively affecting marine life.

Addressing Air Pollution resulting from Aviation

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is mandated to set up international standards that govern the emission of certain pollutant gases and smoke for new aircraft engines. That notwithstanding, only minimal improvements have occurred in the aviation industry in reducing harmful gases and emissions compared to other sectors that also use fuel (ICAO, 2014). Consequently, there is a need for more proactive approaches to mitigate the problem. For example, the adoption of better engine types that encompass selective catalyst reduction mechanisms and exhaust gas recirculation to ensure maximum combustion. Most gaseous and vapor emissions have been associated with the incomplete combustion of fuels (Environmental Protection UK, 2012).

Therefore, increasing the number of recirculation cycles will ensure complete combustion and reduce harmful emissions.

It is also essential to develop proactive policies consistent with air quality and environmental conservation concerns, similar to related approaches in other industries, such as automobiles. Currently, procedures governing aircraft activities and environmental concerns are less stringent than those that govern other sectors of the economy involved with fuel combustion, such as factories and the automobile industry (Kularatna & Sudantha, 2008). This could be partly because most aircraft pollution occurs in the atmosphere higher than automobiles and other engine activities on the earth’s surface. Integrating related aviation policies with the transport industry will achieve a common approach to environmental conservation.

Stakeholders, governments, and aircraft manufacturers should also review, develop, and adopt better aircraft technologies continuously to reduce the extent of air pollution and environmental concerns. In addition, plans should be in place to cater to expansion activities to minimize the overstretching of existing limited resources with an increased air travel demand.


Various pollutants caused by aviation practices affect air quality around airports, posing a real health problem. Aircraft movements while on the ground, during landing and taking off, produce significant pollutant emissions, affecting air quality around airports. Besides road traffic, other machinery, such as forklifts, cranes, and others, are also important sources of air pollutants around the airport, posing a health risk to surrounding communities, air travel personnel, and travelers. Nitrogen dioxide, benzpyrene, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds are harmful environmental pollutants caused by aviation. Establishing favorable mitigation policies by all stakeholders, governments, and aircraft manufacturers is crucial to develop proactive approaches to air pollution reduction around airports.




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Kularatna, N., & Sudantha, B.H. (2008). An Environmental Air Pollution Monitoring System Based on the IEEE 1451 Standard. Sensors Journal, 8(4), 415-422.

Mark J. U., & Mark W. F. (2000). Acute health effects of ambient air pollution: The ultrafine particle hypothesis. Journal of Aerosol Medicine, 13(4): 355-359.

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