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East Midlands 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 East Midlands Airport (EMA) 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 EMA continues to play in the regional economy and local communities, in particular through the current pandemic. This includes:

  • Launching a dedicated Covid support fund, which has now awarded over £60,000 to community organisations responding to the pandemic, including purchasing more than 41,000 items for local food banks through the airport’s own supply chain
  • Supporting almost 6,000 young people through the airport’s education outreach work, including through its dedicated, on-site education centre, the Aerozone
  • Providing training for 135 people through the airport’s on-site skills academy
  • Grants of £60,000 provided support to 63 local community and voluntary organisations and projects
  • Over a quarter of all EMA staff volunteering almost 1,400 hours to support local community projects
  • A commitment to divert all waste away from landfill, with over 97% successfully diverted in the last year.

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.

Clare James, Managing Director of East Midlands Airport said:

“EMA has a long track record of supporting communities and leading the way when it comes to sustainability. We are proud to have been the first UK airport to become certified as carbon neutral back in 2012 and are excited to be building on this in our new, ambitious CSR strategy.

“Our last CSR strategy has seen us install renewable technologies on site, commit to avoid sending any waste to landfill, invest thousands of hours volunteering in our community and sparking the imagination of young people considering a career in aviation. We’ve made some great strides and have now turned our attention to what else we can do.

“This is why we are committing to becoming a net zero-carbon business by no later than 2038 and incentivising airline manufacturers and operators to bring zero-carbon aircraft to our runway in the next 10-15 years.

“While coronavirus will continue to pose significant challenges for many months to come, this does not detract 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.”