Manchester Airport 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 Manchester Airport within the next 10 – 15 years part of a series of ambitious commitments announced today.

MAG, the Northern gateway’s parent company and 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 challenge 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 includes a landmark commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2038, 12 years ahead of the UK’s aviation industry target to become net zero carbon by 2050.

This pledge aligns with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s 2038 environmental targets.

As well as the net zero carbon commitment, MAG has committed to a series of community targets, such as investing £100,000 a year in supporting local projects, and education and employment goals, including supporting the education of 50,000 young people.

The report shines a light on the role the airport continues to play in the regional economy and local communities.

Examples of activity delivered in the last year include:

  • Hundreds of phone calls made by airport workers to local people left isolated during the coronavirus lockdown
  • Supporting the Covid response in the region through fast-tracking almost £20,000 of Community Trust Fund donations to local charities and working with on-site partners to deliver 3,000 frozen airline meals to local food charities
  • The construction of the AeroZone, a dedicated education facility for local schools which will showcase the range of employment available on site once Covid restrictions are lifted
  • Harnessing new technology in the construction of the airport’s new extension to T2, due to open in 2021, which will be around 15% more efficient that the existing T2.
  • Continuing the 100% track record of placing people in employment who have received training through the airport’s on-site Academy

The net zero carbon target made by MAG reflects the leading role it plays in helping decarbonise the aviation sector in the years ahead.

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.

Karen Smart, Managing Director of Manchester Airport said:

“At Manchester Airport we have always been extremely proud of the region we serve, and we owe a great deal to the local communities around the airport. This is why we place such an emphasis on supporting those communities as well as remaining ambitious in our approach to sustainability.

“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 have an impact on our business for some time to come, we cannot take our eye off the need for sustainable growth in the long term, and these plans will set us on the right course to achieve this.”

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.”