Going the Distance on Airport Efficiency: Q&A with ATL’s Charles Marshall

Charles Marshall Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International AirportThinking big comes naturally at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. For nearly 20 years, Hartsfield-Jackson has been known as the world’s busiest airport. Last year, more than 104 million passengers made their way through the hub, which is only a two-hour flight from 80% of the US population.

The airport’s sustainability plan from 2011 calls for a 20% reduction in emissions, 20% reductions in water and energy intensity, and a 90% reduction in waste by 2020. “We are currently reviewing that because 2020 is right around the corner,” says Charles Marshall, airport engineering manager for Hartsfield-Jackson. Another reason to re-assess: the City of Atlanta, which owns the airport, has since passed sustainability-related legislation with ambitious targets.

Last year, Hartsfield-Jackson’s energy management program won an Environmental Leader Award. The judges called it “a great example of how an airport can use data to manage both consumption and cost of energy as well as setting goals that move the airport industry forward.”

Recently we caught up with Marshall to learn about the projects that may help Hartsfield-Jackson become one of the greenest airports in the nation — if not the world.

Where is the airport now in relation to the sustainability goals for 2020?

A number of things have occurred since we set the original goals. In the City of Atlanta, there is a new resolution for renewable energy for government facilities to reach 100% of their electricity usage by 2025. That includes renewable, clean, and energy efficiency efforts. We’re currently looking at that in light of our goals at the airport. Another part of the resolution is that by 2035, the City of Atlanta is looking at the entire city to move to 100% electricity from clean and renewable energy.

Are there particular airport initiatives happening now, especially around energy?

There are projects under way in terms of modernization and retrofits. We already changed the airfield to LED lighting, and there are a number of parking lights that have been changed. Some facilities have been changed as well.

We are currently moving forward on a new performance contract, which will change a number of facilities and the roadway lighting to LED lighting. It also includes an upgrade of the building management systems that are outside of the terminals. Energy savings each year help fund the contract.

There’s a solar production facility here on the new taxi assembly facility that is under construction. Other projects include energy efficiency — more lighting that’s energy efficient, heating and cooling, building envelopes, windows — exceeding the LEED Silver Standard, which is required in the City of Atlanta. The goal is moving to [LEED] Gold and Platinum.

What are you working on with solar?

We already have some security lights that are powered by solar, but this will be the first solar PV installation on a facility here at the airport. Part of the challenge with solar is glare because we cannot have glare affect any of the flight paths or the towers. We’re in the process of reviewing that and looking at potential other opportunities to develop solar either here at the airport or with Georgia Power, which has new solar programs that provide for offsite solar production.

Is glare from solar always an issue for airports?

It really depends on where the solar PV cells are placed in relation to the operations, where the planes take off and land, as well as the towers. Every airport is different.

Do you have a goal for how much energy you’d like to have come from solar sources?

As much as possible. We’re currently deciding that right now — we’re trying to see what is possible.

Are there other challenges you’re working to address related to energy?

We are working with our stakeholders on the airport property to see how, as a community, we can address sustainability goals, including energy efficiency and emissions reductions. It’s all encapsulated in what we call the ATL EcoDistrict, which is the only airport in the country that is registered as an EcoDistrict. It’s the first [airport EcoDistrict] in the world.

What is an EcoDistrict, exactly?

EcoDistricts are typically communities and neighborhoods, but we look at the airport as a community. This is a community of the various businesses and organizations here. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is part of the City of Atlanta. There are a number of businesses operating facilities on this property working toward various efficiency goals. Several of them have implemented LED lighting, HVAC efficiency projects, and other projects. We’re working together so we can show what is it doing for this entire community. We organized in 2013 and we’re making progress in terms of promoting energy efficiency, reducing waste, and improving public transportation to this area.

How are you tracking the data for this?

We’re using the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Each one of the stakeholders is already entering information into it as a result of another piece of legislation passed by the city, which requires commercial companies to report their energy and water usage. We’re able to link this information together and show the effect for the community. Right now we’re in the process of aggregating that information so we can share metrics for the ATL EcoDistrict, which includes more than just the airport proper.

The goal is to improve the community at the airport, to reduce energy usage, improve efficiency, reduce waste, reduce emissions, create a more vibrant airport, and to hopefully set a model for airports around the country to join the movement.

What other initiatives are you working on related to improving efficiency?

We’re adding taxiways, where planes do not have to cross an active runway. When planes land, rather than having to burn fuel waiting on an opportunity to clear an active runway, they can go around the runway and get to the port quicker, and thereby reduce the amount of fuel they have to burn, reduce the emissions, save money, and get the passengers to the gates much quicker. We already have some taxiways that are end-around the runways, and we’re adding more to ease the efficiency when planes land. They can go straight to the gate. The airlines are very appreciative of that.

Why isn’t every airport like that?

It sounds real simple, but it’s actually tricky. Many of the configurations for airports have been around for years. This wasn’t around when many of them were constructed. There are many airports across the world doing this.

We are also finishing an installation of 300 EV chargers as we move toward using cleaner energy. Quite a few passengers have purchased EVs. The mayor set out the goal that we would be one of the greenest airports in the world, and this is one of the manifestations of that. It’s not just passengers — some of the employee parking areas are getting EV charging stations as well.

What are some key lessons learned along the way with all these changes at the airport?

A lot of the lessons learned have been in terms of communication for those designing and constructing the projects, but also those operating the projects after they’re completed, so we’re reaching what the project was intended or designed to do. And, if we’re not, then what are the things that we need to adjust so we can streamline the process? The ultimate goal is continuous improvement.

We’re now accepting submissions for the 2018 Environmental Leader Product and Project Awards. Early birds receive an entry fee discount when they submit by November 10. Learn more here.

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