Interview with Ana Salazar

August 7, 2023

“Madrid-Barajas and Barcelona-El Prat produce half of the emissions of the whole network, therefore the impact of their accreditation is significant.”
– Ana Salazar

In our latest interview, we set out to learn about the challenges and opportunities that managing CO₂ emissions at a large airport network entails. Our contact at Aena, Spanish airport operator company counting an ample 46 airports under their wings, agreed to share her insights on the matter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you Aena’s Ana Salazar.

What is your favorite thing about your job as Aena’s Head of Environment?

In my case, airport environmental management brings together my two great passions: aviation and nature. Therefore, for me it is enormously satisfying to contribute with my work to making air transport and our natural heritage coexist in full balance. In a way, those of us who work with environmental protection are contributing to the fact that future generations can live in a more sustainable place. I like to think that we work for the well-being of our children and grandchildren.
Additionally, I am very lucky to have a great team of professionals, who are the true architects of the main successes of Aena in environmental matters and with whom it is a pleasure to work with, so the satisfactions obtained far exceed the difficulties we encounter in our work.

Aena is a large airport group that is gradually getting more engaged in climate action. Currently there are 6 Airport Carbon Accredited airports owned by Aena. Could you tell us a bit about the process behind a particular airport deciding to apply for the programme? Does the decision come from the top of the airport group administration to a particular airport or the other way around?

Aena is the world’s largest airport operator in terms of passenger traffic and manages 46 airports and 2 heliports in Spain. When we decide to engage new airports in Airport Carbon Accreditation, two factors are taken into account.
The first one is based on a strategic decision, so we analyse the contribution of each airport to the overall carbon footprint from our airport network. For example, Madrid-Barajas and Barcelona-El Prat produce half of the emissions of the whole network, therefore the impact of their accreditation is significant. On the other hand, there are other factors taken into account, such as the environmental protection status of the area where the airport is located. This is the case of the Airports of Menorca and Lanzarote, which, despite not having a large contribution to overall emissions, are located on islands that have been declared as “Biosphere Reserves”.
Taking into account these factors, we are currently planning to increase our participation by bringing more airports on board of the programme and upgrading the accreditation level of those airports that are already in, with the aim to achieve carbon neutrality in Madrid and Barcelona by 2030.

Are you thinking about applying a group-wide carbon management strategy in the future?

We are currently working on Aena’s Climate Change Strategy. In a first phase, we have focused on major airports and on defining common lines of action for the whole network. Later on, we will include the remaining airports, establishing emission reduction mechanisms that will take into account the special characteristics of each airport and the options available to minimise their CO₂ emissions.

In your own words, what are the benefits of participating in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme?

There are many! But to name just a few:
– To have a common framework for developing airport emissions’ inventories, which allows to make comparisons among airports, both globally and within our network.
– The programme provides the appropriate methodology to define plans to reduce emissions from sources controlled by the airport.
– It establishes the necessary requirements to map and integrate emissions from all the stakeholders, and it really serves as a catalyst to promote the need for control and reduction of emissions among them as well.

Do you see the 6 airports from your group that are part of Airport Carbon Accreditation sharing best practice in sustainability between them?

Indeed, best practice in carbon management is shared among the entire airport network, not only among our accredited airports. Most of these initiatives arise from centralised actions that are then implemented according to the different needs of the airports. This is the case of our policy for reducing energy consumption and promoting the use of energy from renewable sources, which follows a plan drawn up for the entire airport network owned by Aena. On top of that, measures are defined according to common guidelines, although taking into account the particularities of each airport.

What do you think is the key thing holding some airports back from becoming engaged in carbon management?

In my opinion, the success of the initiatives that can be carried out by an airport to reduce emissions depends inescapably on the level of commitment and collaborative effort. In order for an airport to actively participate in the fight against climate change in a comprehensive way, it is necessary that its stakeholders, airlines, ground handlers, etc. work together to achieve the same goal. Without this commitment of collaboration, the results obtained by an airport working on its own will invariably be limited. (Alone we go faster, but together we go further).

Do you think that carbon management is unseating the noise management as the most relevant environmental challenge in aviation? What other environmental aspects need more attention in your environmental management?

The increase of air traffic and the growth of population in the vicinity of airports has contributed a lot to the intensification of noise as an issue. Climate Action is different, but little by little, social awareness and the international regulatory framework are gaining momentum, and similarly, the Spanish government is also more engaged. At the moment the Ministry of Environment here in Spain is in the drafting phase of a new climate change law, which is likely to place more priority on reducing emissions. All this naturally means that climate change is becoming increasingly important in the field of environmental management for Aena.
Another aspect that we consider of vital importance is water management.
The almost constant water deficit in many of the territories where our airports are located, makes us all-too-aware of the great importance of preserving this resource – both from the environmental and socio-economic perspective. All the more so when passenger numbers are growing at our airports. With that in mind, we want to ensure an efficient water supply for our employees and users who transit the airport facilities every day, so rigorous monitoring of water consumption is a must. We are working on a strategic plan for water management at our airports, which will allow us to diagnose and establish a specific action framework in this regard, especially in the implementation of good practice, such as the reuse of previously treated sewage water, automated leakage controls, etc.

Which carbon reducing or environmental project of your airports makes you the proudest?

One of Aena’s strategic lines, aligned with our goal of reducing GHG emissions, is the implementation of energy saving and efficiency techniques in its infrastructure and the progressive use of renewable energy sources at the airports. This allowed us to save 83 million kWh (-8%) from 2012 to 2016, equivalent to the electricity consumption of 20,074 households in an entire year.
Especially noteworthy, given their innovative and pioneering nature, are the wind turbines installed at La Palma airport, capable of supplying 40% of the airport’s total electricity consumption, or the geothermal system at Reus airport. Right now, we’re also undertaking a new project – investing in photovoltaic technology to get some more of the main airports of the network generating their own electricity.

Learn more about Aena’s Environmental Strategy here.