Airports are a unique environment, especially from an alternative fuel and air quality perspective. While the largest polluters at an airport are the aircraft and individuals driving to the airport, two factors that airport management cannot really control (aircraft are subject to international regulations; more on individual cars later), there has been a lot of movement towards using cleaner alternative fuels at airports across the country.

During one of the early sessions at the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles National Conference and Expo, which started yesterday, Flying High: Airports Take Off with Alternative Fuels, speakers representing airports (and related organizations) from across the country spoke on the surprising variety of methods that are in effect right now and more that are coming soon. We're talking propane, consolidating hotel shuttles, using more biodiesel and rebuilding entire sections of the airport for better traffic flow.

Read AutoblogGreen's exclusive report after the jump.

William Elrick, executive director of the Torrington Group, started with an overview of the challenges and opportunities of an airport vehicle infrastructure. Airports are wonderfully set up for a central fueling system, which facilitates using unconventional fuels, and there is often a lot of idling time, good for hybrids and other electric drive vehicles.

Some airports that have had long experiences with alternative fuels are Saint Louis (STL), which started off with a rocky start in the alternative fuel world, Boston (BOS), which "kicked the tires" and has led the way with a lot of alternative fuel types, and nearby Low Angeles (LAX). Elrick said that most major airports now have at least some experience with alternative fuels, and a 1998 survey found the 90 percent of the to 50 airports had at least some alternative fuel experience. Most airports start using alternative fuels with their own fleets, and are now moving more and more on getting their tenants involved in alternative fuels.

There is something called the VALE (Voluntary Airport Low Emission) program. It was the first permanent FAA Air Quality Initiative and was established in October 2004 and provides funds for air quality initiatives through improving vehicles and infrastructure and provides airports with emission reduction credits. But not all airports are aware of and use this program.

There are two funding methods available for VALE, either AIP or PFC.

AIP (Airport Improvement Program) comes from federal funds and is designated for new vehicles that are airport owned, is to be used for alternative fuel vehicles, and amounts to about $3 billion a year (per airport). PFC (Passenger Facility Charge, which you'll recognize from a the few dollars tacked onto every airplane ticket you've ever purchased), is the airport's own money and so can be used on airport and non-airport owned new and retrofit vehicles that use alternative or cleaner conventional fuels, amounts to about $2 billion a year (depending on the airport).

Randy Bond, general manager of ShuttlePort, has worked a lot at the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood airport in Florida. By redesigning the consolidated car rental facility before it reopened in 2000, rental car bus trips were reduced by a million a year and about a million gallons of fuel each year. Airport workers also use NEVs to get around and an express exit lane was added to get some cars out of the parking garages quicker, thus saving more fuel.

ShuttlePort initiated a B20 biodiesel program at Ft. Lauderdale in 2004 and also introduced five hybrid buses to the fleet in January 2006. The ten test buses didn't have any mechanical issues during the initial yearlong B20 tests on. After the test, the airport bought 42 buses that can use biodiesel, and the fleet was fully converted to B20 in September 2005. Today, 59 buses and trams use the biofuel.

Jack Lott, of Destination Shuttle Services, worked on a LAX traffic and fuel use master plan for LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports), said that one way to affect how individuals in their cars pollute (or don't pollute) at an airport is, for example, to have cell phone parking lots that keep some cars our of the traffic stream. Lott and DSS worked on the master plan for all vehicles coming into and out of LAX and focused particularly on consolidating hotel shuttle services.

The airport itself had financial and environmental motivators, which included political and social pressures for change. But when they first approached nearby hotels, hoteliers couldn't care less about air quality because their job was to fill beds and make it easy for travelers to get to the hotel and back to the airport. Hotels don't necessarily want to be in the transportation services, Lott said, but see it as a necessary evil. There are good things about having dedicated shuttles, of course, like having a Marriott-branded shuttle creating moving advertising all the time. A consolidated shuttle service, on the other hand, forces the hotels to lose some market branding and so they lose control over the marketing strategy. This is especially true when some hotels in an area consolidate and others don't. The hotel that doesn't consolidate (and so runs its own shuttle service and thus pollutes more) is able to advertise not only to customers with their vans, but also that they have a dedicated shuttle that goes door-to-door.

LAWA's goals were, in part, to increase passenger-handling capacity, relieve vehicle congestion and increase security control (especially after September 11, 2001). Lott met regularly with LAWA and with hoteliers. None of the hoteliers were against consolidation per se, but they needed a catalyst. They wanted a deal where all hotels in the area had to join the consolidation effort so they wouldn't lose the competitive advantage. LAWA started talking about such regulations, but didn't set any dates. Through these hints, nine of 47 hotels within three miles of LAX joined the consolidation. Before the consolidation, these nine hotels sent 53 buses on an average of 22,140 trips per month to the airport. Afterwards, 26 buses went on an average of 12,140 trips. The hotels saw a 12 percent cost savings and the community wins because there are 80,000 fewer gallons of fuel burned a year and 1,200,000 fewer pounds of CO2 emitted each year. Lott said LAWA is in discussion with 14 more hotels that want to join the consolidation effort.

Jon Van Bogart of CleanFUEL USA, which works with many airports, said that just about any vehicle application you can think of – personal, taxi, bus, delivery, etc. – operates at an airport, and airport vehicles can use different fuels – CNG, biodiesel, ethanol, propane, etc.

Russ Simonson, the Sr. Environmental Program Manager of the Port of Seattle. SEA-TAC it the 30th busiest airport in the world, with almost 30,000,000 passengers in 2006. And, about half of the airport air emissions come from roadway activity. The airport has a CNG program in effect since 1999 that not only resulted in community support, but also banked the airport some emission credits with the local air agency (working with the EPA) to build the third runway and to allow SEA-TAC to grow in the future.

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