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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on May 25, 2014

Being a good neighbour

Airports across the globe are embracing new ways of connecting with the communities around them, writes Chris Beanland.

In these days of 24/7 communication, aviation is in the media spotlight like never before, and this high level of scrutiny arguably means that acting as a responsible corporate citizen is more essential than ever for the world’s airports.

What exactly this entails is, of course, debatable, but one thing for certain is that being seen to be green and acting as a “good neighbour” to surrounding communities are bound to be high on the priority list of most airports.

And, while the motivation for such policies varies hugely, there is simply no disputing that an ever-increasing number of airports are realising that being active in the local community needs to be a key trunk of their strategy.

Airports, it seems, are determined to give something back to the people who have to deal with the downsides of living near an airport.

Beaches, trails and wetlands

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) in Alaska, for example, allows access to its land for recreation. 

“Recreation opportunities supported at the airport include access to a number of small beaches and wetlands, such as Spenard Beach on the shores of Lake Hood Seaplane Base, Connor’s Bog Dog Park, De Long Lake Park and Little Campbell Lake,” says airport manager John Parrott. 

“A portion of a popular Anchorage trail system, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, runs along the coastline on airport land, offering space for hikers, bikers, skiers and many others.”

Dog training

Down in Detroit, people with deafness or a physical disability who need canine help rely on Paws With A Cause. And Detroit Airport (DTW) is a perfect place to lick four legged recruits into shape. 

“DTW has partnered with Paws With a Cause to provide extensive training for potential assistance dogs,” says Wayne County Airport Authority spokesman, Michael Conway.

Days out for the kids

In Japan, airports are popular places for days out. “We organise an airport tour for elementary school children at Kansai (KIX) and Osaka (ITM),” points out Ritsuko Tajima of New Kansai International Airport Company. 

And it doesn’t stop there, as Osaka’s citizens are also welcome at other times. Tajima, the airport’s assistant director of airline marketing and promotion, adds: “We also host summer festival events, and a travel expo.”

Restoring woodlands

Another airport operator with the environment on its mind is Aéroports de Montréal, which is restoring the Parc Marcel-Laurin woodland in St Laurent, near to Montréal’s Dorval Airport (YUL), under the umbrella of Opération Monarques II.

“The Parc Marcel-Laurin woodland is an urban island of greenery. Our contribution will enable the planting of milkweed to encourage the reproduction and feeding of Monarch Butterflies – now an endangered species in Canada,” enthuses ADM’s assistant director of public relations, Stephanie Lepage.

“An additional 125 trees and 150 shrubs will be planted, too,” she continues. “This is ADM’s third contribution toward the Parc Marcel-Laurin woodland. Nearly 1,000 trees have been planted since 2009 as part of our policy, which seeks to protect areas of high ecological value on airport lands and to offset the environmental impacts of the corporation’s projects.”

Going green

Norway is particularly eco-sensitive, and at Trondheim Airport, they’ve hit on an idea to encourage green commuting for airport workers. 

“Airport bus operators offer generous discounts for airport staff, and we encourage all employees at the airport to commute to work using everything but fossil cars,” says Avinor’s environmental advisor, Grethe Fremo, who notes than one of the bus company’s vehicles use biofuels.

“As an added incentive, for five months each year, all employees who commute to work on foot, bike, bus, electric vehicle or through car-pooling for eight days or more each month receive a prize.”

 Trondheim Airport is also a project partner in the Green Highway project – a partnership between the three municipalities of Sundsvall, Östersund and Trondheim – which aims to create a “fossil-fuel-free corridor” on a 450km stretch of motorway that stretches between Norway and Sweden.

The project is part of the EU’s Interreg Sweden-Norway programme and financed by the European Regional Development Fund. 

“The aim is to create a fossil-fuel-free corridor, as well as to demonstrate that investment in green technology can boost the economy and contribute to sustainable growth and reduced environmental impact,” adds Fremo.

“By extension, this may mean emission free destinations that are attractive to both residents and tourists.”

Avinor is also plane spotter friendly. “At some of our airports – among them, Stavanger and Oslo – we have built special watch-towers for plane-spotters. Those are very popular,” she says.

Twitter

Airports everywhere are tuning in to the fact that it’s really important now to communicate actively with passengers and with the local community – to engage, and most importantly to listen and be clear about what’s going on. 

UK airports are particularly active on Twitter, using effective social media techniques and employing full time Tweeters. Indeed, Manchester now has almost 100,000 followers, London City some 55,000 and Birmingham around 23,000. 

All three of these gateways offer breezy, informative daily dialogues on Twitter, which enrich and improve their image.

It’s good to talk

“Denver International Airport is in frequent communication with our partners and the public in Denver and surrounding areas,” points out director of media relations, Laura Coale. 

“Airport representatives speak at community meetings regarding many topics, such as new construction, and we positively welcome guests. 

“In fact, we provide tours to community groups, host an annual children’s holiday party for foster and adoptive children, sponsor an internship programme at the airport, and host a ‘plane pull’ – which raised more than $65,000 benefitting Special Olympics Colorado last summer.” 

Coale adds: “Community relations is an integral part of running the fifth busiest airport in the US. It’s important that the community knows what is happening at an entity that generates more than $26 billion for the Rocky Mountain region, and, it’s important for the airport to be a steward in the community.”

Charities, festivals and entertainment

One gateway that combines nearly all of these disparate strands is Vancouver International Airport (YVR), whose community relations programmes are some of the most extensive in the world. 

 “In 2013, we donated more than C$700,000 to local non-profits and good causes,” says Robyn McVicker, YVR’s communications director, who notes that the Canadian gateway launched its own YVR Summer Festival Tour last year. 

“We attended almost 20 local community events to connect with our neighbours,” says a proud McVicker. “We also run a very successful school tour programme for children in the fifth grade, which has been fully subscribed for the last five years. 

“In fact, we are expanding this very popular tour to community groups, beginning this spring.” 

But wait, there’s more. “Another very important way that we connect with the community is through our annual summer in-terminal celebrations: Take-Off Fridays,” says McVicker.

“Every Friday during July and August, we host free entertainment in the terminal, lunch specials, giveaways and activities for the entire family. It’s become a highlight of many families’ summers.” 

According to McVicker, YVR also listens to its neighbours. She tells Airport World: “We connect with the community through our communications channels, and through community consultation activities when it comes to growth and development at the airport. 

“For instance, we sought public feedback on our proposed luxury outlet mall, and in response, in fact changed the location to make it more accessible by transit.” 

And, YVR doesn’t forget ecological issues either. “From a sustainability perspective, we strive to operate our airport in a responsible way, and have a host of environmental programmes that deliver on that promise,” states McVicker.

“These range from noise management strategies to wildlife management and a commitment to emissions reduction through our investment in the Canada Line, the rapid transit link that connects YVR to downtown Vancouver and Richmond.”

Arguably what all this shows is that engaging with neighbours is both possible – and in the long-term, desirable too. 

From charity drives, to school visits, from engagement on Twitter to town hall hustings and good environmental management – community relations builds a better business and a more successful airport.

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