London Stansted eyes zero-emission aircraft in the next decade with new challenge to the aviation industry

Next-generation, zero-emission planes could be operating out of London Stansted within the next 10 – 15 years thanks to a new competition by the airport’s owner to drive advances in aviation technology.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the UK’s largest airport group, has fired the starting pistol on a competition for the first airline to operate a zero-emission commercial flight from one of its airports. This is the first competition of its kind in the industry, which will see the successful carrier win five years’ free landing fees worth up to £1.3million in today’s prices.

The competition comes as the Group publishes its annual CSR Report, which sets out the vital role the airport continues to play in the regional economy and local communities. This includes:

  • Almost 12,000 volunteering hours by colleagues to support projects in the local community
  • A 20% reduction in the amount of waste generated, with the airport continuing its track record of sending zero waste to landfill for the third year in a row, including becoming the first airport in the UK to send all its coffee grounds to be recycled into solid biofuels,
  • An industry-leading trial of fully compostable bags when carrying liquids in hand luggage through security
  • Welcoming a full intake of 500 students to the airport’s dedicated, on-site college for the third consecutive year since it opened in 2018
  • A special event for 50 young women from across Harlow to mark United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science

The report also makes a landmark commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2038, twelve years ahead of the UK’s aviation industry target to become net zero carbon by 2050.

Airlines taking part in the competition to win the free landing fees will be given free rein in their choice of low-emission technology, including electric and hydrogen technology. It comes after global manufacturer Airbus last month revealed three concept ‘ZEROe’ hydrogen powered commercial aircraft, which could carry up to 200 passengers from the UK across Europe from 2035. The first commercial-grade six-seater aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell was also showcased at Cranfield University in September.

Sustainable Aviation, the UK aviation industry’s sustainability group has forecast that the sector can expect to see the first zero emission regional or short-haul flight in around 10-15 years’ time. MAG’s initiative will complement the full range of measures needed to help the UK reach its Net Zero 2050 target, including modernising UK airspace, sustainable aviation fuels, smart flight operations and new aircraft technology. Today’s announcement comes as the Government’s Jet Zero Council, of which MAG is a founding member, prepares to meet for a second time in the coming days.

Steve Griffiths, Managing Director of London Stansted said:

“Along with our colleagues across MAG, London Stansted has always been ambitious in our approach to sustainability. Whether it’s our ongoing commitment to avoid sending any waste to landfill, the thousands of hours our teams have spent volunteering in our community or the ground-breaking move to turn our coffee grounds into solid biofuels.

“There will always be more we can do, which is why we are setting our sights on seeing zero-carbon aircraft on our runway in the next 10-15 years, along with a commitment to be a net zero-carbon business by 2038.

“While coronavirus will continue to pose significant challenges for many months to come, this does not take away from the vital role we play in our community, our focus on sustainability and our commitment to supporting the region we serve.”

Neil Robinson, CSR and Airspace Change Director, MAG said:

“When our airports prosper our communities around them prosper, but in tougher times we can help support each other too. We have a long history of working very closely in our local communities and, for us, sustainability means more than just reducing carbon, it means becoming a business that has long standing, sustainable relationships with our environment, people and communities at all levels.

“In striving to be the best possible neighbour, we also continuously focus on improving employment opportunities – and that means ensuring we have the right support on offer at our airports to help people find work, including airport academies, Further Education colleges and our ‘Aerozones’ that introduce school children to aviation.

“Having this framework in place will be even more important as we recover from Covid-19. This year’s annual CSR report demonstrates another great year of achievement and I look forward to delivering on our ambitious new five-year strategy.”