Interview with Aly El-Hadji Ouattara

March 7, 2024

First of all, congratulations on being one of the three airports in Africa to achieve Level 3+ Neutrality, the highest level achieved in the region so far! Can you provide an overview of Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport’s sustainability initiatives and efforts to reduce carbon emissions?

Thank you! It’s an honour to be the first airport in Africa to have reached Level 3+ Neutrality. AERIA, the operator of Abidjan Airport, is strategically focused on fostering sustainable development and advancing decarbonisation of Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport.

Of course, we are not alone in this endeavour. Globally, airports are increasingly aware of the importance of reducing their carbon footprint through a number of CO2-reducing initiatives. At Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport we started with a strategic shift to renewable energy sources. For instance, we have installed solar street lights and are planning to install solar panels soon to generate electricity.

In terms of energy efficiency, the airport has implemented measures to reduce energy consumption. These include regulating air conditioning, switching off electrical and electronic equipment in offices during weekends, adhering to equipment maintenance schedule, and improving the quality of electricity.

As a Level 3+ accredited airport, and as we move to more advanced carbon management practices, our focus is gradually shifting to addressing scope 3 emissions – so teaming up with our aviation partners! We are collaborating closely with the National Civil Aviation Authority, airlines, Air Traffic Control (ATC), and handler service providers to reduce carbon emissions of  the industry as a whole. The measures we have taken jointly include rejuvenating the aircraft fleet, implementing operational improvements, such as continuous climb and descent (CDO/CCO), and conducting feasibility study for the development of commercial fuels. sustainable aviation with the support of ICAO experts.

We are proud trailblazers on the African continent with this comprehensive approach, and Airport Carbon Accreditation has been instrumental in motivating our progress.

How has the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme influenced and guided Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport ‘s sustainability strategies?

The programme has provided us with a robust framework to manage and reduce its carbon emissions effectively at Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport. It has led us through all the stages of comprehensive carbon management, starting off with measuring our carbon emissions in a transparent and consistent manner, providing a clear understanding of the scale of emissions and highlighting areas for improvement.

The programme  has also motivated us to identify effective measures to reduce those emissions. We are proudly pursuing many avenues to achieve that including adopting renewable energy, improving the energy efficiency of buildings and infrastructure, promoting sustainable transportation, and raising employee awareness about the importance of emission reduction.

Furthermore, we greatly appreciated the guidance provided under Airport Carbon Accreditation for the use of the most effective carbon offset mechanisms. This way we are sure we are investing in the highest quality of carbon credits to compensate for our residual emissions.

But there is more. Our involvement in the programme led us to engage all involved parties in our ecosystem, such as airlines, service providers, and local authorities in facilitating the implementation of sustainability initiatives and advancing decarbonisation. This collaborative approach has successfully reduced the carbon footprint of the entire airport ecosystem.

Airport Carbon Accreditation  has been a great  support to Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in its transition towards more sustainable aviation and in reducing carbon emissions from the airport industry as a whole.

How does Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport engage with stakeholders, such as airlines, suppliers, and the local community, to promote sustainability and reduce its carbon footprint?

As I previously mentioned, a formal exchange framework has been put in place to facilitate discussions among stakeholders on issues related to carbon emissions within the aviation industry. AERIA is a proud member of this group, rallying all partners to increase efforts in this regard.

The National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) hosts a CO2 committee, which is chaired by industry experts. This committee operates under the supervision of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), ensuring the effective implementation of the organisation’s strategies, including document 9988 (Guidance on the Development of States’ Action Plan on CO₂ Emissions Reduction Activities) among others. During the committee meetings, each industry participant provides updates on their respective carbon reduction measures, fostering a collaborative approach to addressing environmental concerns.

Offsetting carbon emissions is a necessary part of environmental sustainability, especially for hard-to-abate sectors such as aviation. How does Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport approach carbon offsetting, and what specific projects or strategies are in place to effectively offset the airport’s residual carbon footprint?

Currently, Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport is employing two principal strategies for carbon offsetting: the purchase of carbon credits to offset residual carbon, and natural carbon sequestration in soil, effectively creating a carbon sink on airport land.

SOIL.IS project represents an innovative approach, offering solutions to optimse the management of soil-contained carbon while generating positive socio-ecological impacts. Four distinct scenarios have been selected, each varying in implementation complexity and performance outcomes across carbon, societal, biodiversity, and financial dimensions.

We are very proud of this innovative project, so please bear with me as I dive deeper into the specifics of each scenario.

Scenario 1, which is called “Improved Maintenance of the Vegetated System,” focuses on the restoration of degraded soils and the introduction of plant species aimed at densifying the current cover with existing species. In the second Scenario, which is all about “Valorisation of Bio-Waste,”  we are designing a composting platform and subsequently spreading the compost on the soil.

Scenario 3, is a mangrove restoration scenario in a natural reserve located nearby our airport. “Restoration and Conservation of Abouabou Bay,” includes establishing a co-management plan with fishing communities in the Abouabou Bay, setting up a nursery for mangroves, and implementing transplanting actions.

Scenario 4, “Vegetable Belt,” addresses the current area exploited by uncontrolled dwellings and informal farmers. The goal of this scenario is to transform this space into an agroecological cultivation system incorporating permaculture, organic farming, and agroforestry practices.

As you can see, the project has many positive side effects, as we engage with the local communities to improve their practices and work together to restore the natural habitat, while sequestering large amounts of carbon.

What are the main challenges or obstacles Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport faces in its pursuit of sustainability?

At Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport we are facing several such challenges. The primary issue we are dealing with is adhering to international air transport regulations, particularly the standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which are crucial to ensuring the safety and sustainability of flight operations.

Another significant hurdle is the high cost associated with implementing renewable energy solutions. For instance, the adoption of solar panel technology, while beneficial for sustainability, remains expensive and very difficult to access in Côte d’Ivoire.

Energy efficiency and exploring new technologies are two more areas of focus for the airport, especially with an older terminal building that is considered energy-intensive. We are striving to reduce our overall energy consumption and to move towards more sustainable energy practices, but there is only so much you can do within infrastructure boundaries.

Additionally, raising awareness and engaging stakeholders is vital. This includes airlines, passengers, airport employees, and other parties. Educating and involving them in sustainable practices is essential, as awareness and education can encourage the adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors.

Collaboration is key to successfully tackle all the above challenges, so we put a lot of effort into dialogue and cooperation with our entire ecosystem.

Except for an aviation environment specialist, you are also a risk manager. Could you share with us how Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport integrates sustainability into its risk management strategy and how this approach contributes to the overall resilience of the airport?

That’s right! I believe that the risk-based approach is an effective method for company governance, and at our airport we have implemented risk mapping to address challenges that could impact us from a sustainability point of view. This approach encompasses a range of risks including compliance, legal, financial, social, image and reputation, environmental, and climate-related risks.

We have paid particular attention to the management of climate risks. The airport has proactively incorporated risks associated with climate change into its planning and operations. This includes adapting to extreme weather conditions, implementing resilience measures, and actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our focus on these areas demonstrates our commitment to addressing the multi-faceted nature of risks in the aviation industry, particularly those related to the climate.