Posts in the category "Environment":

California airports dealing with drought

01_Mineta San Jose  Int'l Airport - The topiary bear that greets motorists at SJC is in no danger

Airports in California must obey strict local and state water conservation rules, but the topiary bear that greets arriving motorists at Mineta San Jose International (SJC) needn’t sweat.

The 12-year-old bear is well-established and, along with nearby native and drought-tolerant plantings, gets by with a sip of recycled water delivered every two weeks by the airport’s high-tech irrigation system.

Recycled water is also used in SJC’s low-flow toilets and to clean the sidewalks and the exteriors of the airport buildings.

Mineta San Jose Int'l Airport sign

San Jose Mineta Int'l Airport_ Windows no longer pressure washed, but washed by hand, and with recycled water.

“The windows in our two terminals are washed twice a year: before the peak year-end travel season and in the spring,” said Rosemary Barnes, SJC’s public information officer. “We no longer pressure-wash the windows, but wash them by hand using recycled water.”

Recycled water is also part of the conservation plan at many other California airports, including Los Angeles International, John Wayne and Fresno Yosemite, where established conservation efforts include low-flow washroom fixtures, synthetic turf and curbed watering programs.

On their own and in response to new water saving mandates, airports in the state are taking steps to save even more water.

A few years back, Palm Springs International Airport installed waterless urinals that have been saving the airport an average of 44,000 gallons per unit per year.

Now, in response to the drought the airport has shut down three water features, reduced landscape watering to three evenings a week and will soon begin eliminating all landside grass, according to airport executive Thomas Nolan.

Palm Springs International Airport pond without water - now

Oakland International has also cut back its watering schedule and increased inspections of the airport’s irrigation system to make sure it is has not sprung any leaks.

In addition to measures that include serving water only by request in the food courts, Sacramento International Airport has removed some areas of turf and now waters “at the lowest level possible to keep landscaping viable while minimizing the risk of fire hazards,” said airport spokeswoman Laurie Slothower.

“We are in the process of hiring a landscape engineer to help us determine our long-term plans for landscaping. There will be less of it, for sure,” she said.

SAC_When Sacramento Int'l Airport Terminal B was built, 9 acres of asphalt parking was converted back to landscape &  natural habitat with drought-tolerant plants.

Even car rental companies do their part. The Hertz Corporation, which also operates the Thrifty, Dollar and Firefly car rental brands, recycles 80% to 90% of the water used to wash cars at airports, said company spokeswoman Anna Bootenhoff, “and we are continually evaluating ways to reduce in this area.”

No more water canon salutes

San Francisco International Airport has implemented many similar conservation measures, including reducing sidewalk hose-downs and working with airport tenants to reduce water usage.

The airport has also discontinued the customary water cannon salutes that celebrate new carriers and major new routes. Each water salute used about 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel, and the airport had been averaging about one salute per month before the practice was discontinued.

Due to the drought, Los Angeles International and Burbank Bob Hope Airport also stopped the ceremonial use of water to welcome new carriers. And this year the Burbank airport nixed a popular demonstration performed by an airport fire department vehicle in a local parade.

“The vehicle would shoot a canon of water while driving down the parade route, showing the fire rescue truck’s ability to pump and roll,” said airport spokeswoman Lucy Burghdorf.

Every drop counts

In its response to the drought, San Diego International Airport (SAN) found a previously untapped source of water: the air conditioning units under passenger boarding bridges.

SAN - collecting drippings, with the boxlike AC unit hanging underneath the passenger boarding bridge. It is connected to the blue collection barrel in the foreground

Water created by condensation – condensate – from those units had traditionally just dripped onto the tarmac and evaporated, but in 2014 the airport began capturing that water and reusing it.

During 2014, SAN collected more than 5,225 gallons of condensate. And this year, the first full year of the program, the airport hopes to collect up to 840,000 gallons of condensate, an amount equal to the water used by five typical households in a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“While conservation is important, sometimes you have to get a little creative if you truly want to make a difference,” said Jonathan Heller, SAN spokesman.

SAN DRIPPINGis actual condensate dripping from a bridge before the recovery apparatus was put in place.

(My story about California airports dealing with drought first appeared in USA TODAY, in my At the Airport column. Photos courtesy of the airports.)

Airports turn lights out for Earth Hour

LAX earth hour

Pylongs at LAX Airport will go green – and then go out – for Earth Hour 2015


During Earth Hour 2015 , which takes place this Saturday, March 28 around the world at 8:30 PM local time, individuals, businesses, cities, buildings, and more than 1,200 landmarks around the world – including the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bride – plan to switch off their lights for one hour to focus attention on climate change.

Close to 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Acropolis in Athens and Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, are scheduled to go dark in support of Earth Hour and some airports around the world plan to participate as well.

At Los Angeles International Airport, the 100-foot-tall LAX Gateway pylons at the Century Boulevard entrance will be lit in various shades of green before Earth Hour. During Earth Hour – from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. – the pylons will turn off.

Mustang by Luis Jimenez

During Earth Hour Denver International Airport will turn off the illuminated DIA sign along Peña Boulevard, the illuminated sign marking the Jeppesen Terminal and the lights on the airport’s iconic “Mustang” statue.

Elsewhere, Athens International Airport will switch off the lighting on one runway and turn off lighting in the airport buildings and staff parking lots.

Dubai Airports has been switching off non-essential lights for an hour each day since March 5 at both Dubai International and Al Maktoum International Airports in preparation for Earth Hour.

And at Vancouver International Airport, they’ll be switching off the base lights on the control tower and the lights around the Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe (a key piece of airport art), in the Public Observation Area, on the exterior sidewalks and in the International Food Court.

Frying with Finnair to the UN Climate Summit

FinnairAirbus 330 HR_edited

Smell that?

The Airbus A330 making Tuesday’s Finnair flight from Helsinki to New York will be running on biofuel partly made from recycled cooking oil from restaurants.

It’s perfectly safe – and Finnair and several other airlines have done it before – but this flight is designed to coincide with the UN Climate Summit taking place in New York and draw attention to the fact that progress is being made on developing environmentally sustainable biofuel.

As Finnair reminds us, “most of an airline’s environmental impact arises from aircraft emissions during flight and switching to a more sustainable fuel source can reduce net CO2 emissions by between 50 and 80 per cent.”

But while everything from used cooking oil to plants, algae, municipal waste, recycled vegetable cooking oil, animal fat and sugarcane have been considered or tested in aircraft in search of safe, alternative, sustainable biofuels, the cost to make that alternative fuel is still at least twice as much – or more – than conventional jet fuel.

But along with Finnair, other airlines, including KLM and Alaska Airlines, airport operators, manufacturers and a variety of governments around the world are working on ways to lower the costs of creating these alternative jet fuels.

So it’s possible that soon you’ll be flying on a jet burning fuel made with old frying oil too.

Hungry herd on duty at Chicago O’Hare

Llama on duty at ORD - 2013


They’re back. They’re hungry. And they’re not picky eaters.

A herd of 37 goats, sheep, llamas and burros have been hired by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to munch on poison ivy, noxious weeds and other unwanted vegetation along creeks, streams and roadway right-of-ways on airport property.

Part of the Chicago Department of Aviation’s (CDA) Sustainable Vegetation Management initiative for O’Hare, the critters are on loan from Settlers Pond, an animal rescue facility in Beecher, Ill.

A herd of about 25 animals was on duty last year from July through November eating unwanted vegetation. That helped the airport cut back on the use of emission-producing equipment and limited the use of toxic herbicides on some of the airport’s 8,000 acres of land.

This year, up to 120 acres of O’Hare land difficult to maintain with traditional landscaping equipment has been set aside for all-they-can-eat grazing. The herd, which spends evenings in transport vans nearby the grazing land, will stay at O’Hare until the weather gets too cold for the animals to access vegetation.

As before, all the sites where the animals graze are in areas far away from or separated from the airfield by security fencing.

Which means we shouldn’t be hearing any stories about take-offs or landings being delayed at O’Hare by a jackass running around on the runway.

At least two other U.S. airports have had animals help out with landscape management.

San Francisco International Airport has a herd of goats come by each year to assist with weed control and in 2012 a herd of 91 sheep and 10 goats participated help control vegetation at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

(My story about weed-eating at O’Hare International Airport first appeared on USA TODAY)

The buzz on bees at Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport


Busy bees are hard at work in hives out on the property of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Inside the airport, there’s also now an exhibit with bee-themed art and educational information about the importance of pollinators.

Titled Flight Path, the exhibit explores bees and flight through a variety of mediums including paintings, blown glass and a mosaic and includes the work of 24 Northwest artists.

Last year, the airport hosted 18 hives. This year, the Port of Seattle is working with a local group called The Common Acre to host 1.5 million honeybees in 24 hives on unused vacant land near the runways.

Sea-Tac isn’t the only airport with hives. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has honeybee hives on property as well and products made from the honey is for sale inside the airport.

Bee outfit

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