Air Date

September 14, 2022

Featured Guests

John E. "Jack" Potter
President and CEO, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Robin Riedel
Co-Lead, McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, McKinsey and Company


Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO, Airports Council International—North America 


Sustainability is a top priority across numerous industries, including transportation. Multiple technologies are already in development and testing to improve sustainability in air and space travel, from efficient engines to sustainable fuels to futuristic airframes.

During a Day 1 panel discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Aerospace Summit, Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International, North America, spoke with two experts in the transportation industry about initiatives and opportunities for sustainable flight technologies, as well as the challenges that must be addressed to achieve their goals.

Metropolitan Airports Are Finding Ways to Support and Increase Sustainability

According to John E. “Jack” Potter, President and CEO of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, airports and the aviation industry generally get a bad reputation when it comes to being bad for the environment.

“I think it's incumbent upon everyone in the industry to do the best that they can to address environmental issues,” he said. “From an airport perspective, think about the big things that you're trying to attack.”

For instance, one goal might be to get people to transition from using cars to using other forms of transportation like transit.

“I think we've done a very good job in that regard,” said Potter. “We've embraced the notion of transportation network companies coming in and providing service to folks … We've moved and migrated as much as we can to upgrade our fleet.”

Additionally, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority now utilizes LED lightbulbs, their police department has all hybrid vehicles, and they’ve made a major effort to reduce the waste they dispose of.

“Everywhere you go, you're gonna see renewable trash cans, recycling … water stations for people,” he continued. “We're building the biggest solar farm on an airport property in America.”

To Achieve Sustainability, The Industry Must Optimize How It Builds Aircraft

Robin Riedel, Co-Lead of the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility at McKinsey and Company, noted that the vast majority of the environmental impact of air transportation comes down to the energy and the fuel we're burning.

“[For] everything that has to do with the airport, probably [at least] 95% percent is either airlines burning fuel or cars burning fuel getting to you,” he said. “The same is true for the aerospace industry. Out of a typical life cycle, emissions of a large narrow body, let's say, 98% or so is tailpipe emissions.”

“We need to optimize how we build the aircraft, and we have to find ways to get the materials in an environmentally-friendly way,” Riedel continued. “Fundamentally, the biggest challenge we're facing is the tailpipe emissions of our aircraft.”

He added that there are many solutions to apply to solve these sustainability challenges.

“Sustainable aviation fuel is a really important one,” he said. “Sustainable aviation fuel means we are taking the carbon that we're gonna emit while flying out of the air beforehand.”

According to Riedel, this can be achieved through biofuels, synthetic fuels, and through direct air capture.

“Between the technology we're gonna use and the feedstock we're gonna apply, we're talking about dozens and dozen different pathways to make sustainable aviation fuels,” Riedel said. “Which one will be successful, which one will be the lowest cost point, will differ by where we are in time, but also by geography.”