The flight path to a sustainable future

Decarbonisation is a central issue for the air transport sector, essential to ensuring both its development and survival. Aeroporti di Roma aims to be at the forefront of industry initiatives to achieve higher levels of sustainability


Air transport plays a key role in global economic and social development. Today, despite producing around two percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, our sector is still regarded as highly impactful and it must be our priority to keep raising our commitment to reducing emissions to achieve ever-higher levels of sustainability, meeting the industry’s decarbonisation goals while continuing to enable international connectivity and mobility.

That is the reason why Aeroporti di Roma (ADR) does not solely focus on ‘sustainability,’ but places the goal of ‘sustainable development’ at the heart of the business strategy: indeed, it is only by embracing an integrated approach to environmental, financial and social sustainability that we can provide our industry with the necessary tools to face the opportunities and challenges of the future, and help lead the green transition.

We recognise that the actions of a single enterprise are not enough to bring about the necessary changes. We need to take collective action to define a roadmap for achieving the sustainability objectives of our industry in the context of the SDGs and the 2030 agenda – taking as a reference the objective of net zero emissions by 2050 – while acknowledging the sector’s essentiality. It is therefore indispensable to identify a practical and practically feasible path to ensure the climate neutrality of the sector based on a rigorous and scientific approach that assesses the impacts of possible actions not only from an environmental point of view, but also from an economic and social one, in the application of ESG criteria.

To this purpose, in April 2022, we launched the Pact for the Decarbonisation of Air Transport, an alliance that brings together Italian industrial companies, trade associations, institutional stakeholders and regulators, as well as environmental organisations, supported by academic experts, to encourage and accelerate the achievement of the transition.

All roads lead to Rome
Our stance is that a multi-approach strategy, including an assortment of technological solutions, will have to be pursued to fulfil the decarbonisation targets; however, in the short-medium term, the most advanced viable option for reducing aircraft CO2 emissions to meet the challenging decarbonisation targets set at the European level is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which can be used without any technical modifications to aircraft, infrastructure and refuelling facilities.

This was confirmed by a research study carried out for the Pact by the Polytechnic University of Milan, published in September 2022, which also found that longer-term solutions to achieve decarbonisation could include the use of alternative forms of propulsion, involving electricity and hydrogen.

An aviation sector with net zero emissions is possible, but only in the right time frame

As a group, we are working to keep gathering and spreading this scientific knowledge, as well as contributing to the wider policymaking debate. The work of the Pact’s Steering Committee is indeed unique at an international level and demonstrates the maturity of a sector whose will is to ensure its solid contribution to Italian and European decision-makers, above all in consideration of the complexity of the public policies to be adopted.

We presented the Pact at the European Parliament in Brussels last January, and our members continue to work to present further findings at the next Summit of the Pact – which will take place in Rome in September, convinced that an aviation sector with net zero emissions is possible, but only in the right time frame and with the contribution of all the relevant stakeholders. Parallel to the Pact, ADR works on several fronts to make its airports fully sustainable – from infrastructural development to circular economy, green finance and care for people and communities’ welfare.

Looking at infrastructures, for instance, our new Boarding Area A has been designed and built combining the most innovative technologies with the most advanced environmental and energy performance to be certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a certification system that follows the entire life cycle of the structures from the design to their going into operation, recognising the performance of the buildings in key sectors, such as: energy and water savings, reduction of CO2 emissions, improvement of the environmental quality of the interiors, materials and the resources used.

Our commitment to sustainable development also extends to the ways in which we secure finance. In November 2020 ADR released its Green Financing Framework, which enabled the group to incur ‘green debt’ to finance projects with a positive environmental impact, and issued its inaugural green bond, worth €300m.

Given the successful interest raised by the bond, we decided to take a step forward and make our commitment even more monitored and mandatory by placing a €500m sustainability-linked bond on the market in April 2021, making us the first airport operator in the world to conduct a public issue of this type. The 10-year bond directly links the cost of debt to sustainability results. These results include achieving net zero CO2 emissions that are under ADR’s control by 2030 and reducing CO2 intensity emissions relating to access to FCO airport by 10 percent in 2030.

Meanwhile, we are also involved in a series of initiatives to contribute making Rome and Italy’s transport system greener and more innovative. Among those, we are partnering up with airlines and Italian train lines to develop increasingly integrated intermodal products (for example, the recently launched ‘FCO Connect,’ a check-in desk available at the airport station for passengers buying a combined train-air ticket), multiplying the connectivity opportunities for passengers while reducing flight emissions.

The future takes flight
Furthermore, we are working to build an efficient Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) ecosystem in Italy and Europe, starting from Rome – where we plan to launch the first routes between Fiumicino airport and Rome city centre by the end of 2024, ahead of Jubilee 2025. We regard AAM as one of the most promising forms of sustainable transportation for the future, with a market size estimated at around €4.2bn by 2030 and the capacity to create approximately 90,000 jobs, and we are proud that Rome will be among the first cities in Europe for the implementation of AAM services.

We signed agreements with Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority, ENAC, and the air traffic control services provider, ENAV, to regulate the development of AAM services that are efficient, safe, sustainable and interoperable with airport and public transport infrastructures, covering the metropolitan area of Rome and connections between the city’s two airports – Fiumicino and Ciampino – and the urban centre; meanwhile, together with the airports of Bologna, Venice and Nice, we formed a company, UrbanV, focused on the designing and building of vertiports, and we work in partnership with Volocopter, a world leader in the development of a new class of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

Thanks to such partnerships, in October 2022 the first crewed eVTOL test flights in Italian airspace took place at Fiumicino’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, marking a major step towards the roll-out of AAM services in Rome, and bringing us one step closer to the air mobility of the future we aim at anticipating.