Chris Bignell – Sustainability on Show at AIX 2023

At the recent AIX 2023 event in Hamburg, one of the biggest subjects of discussion was sustainability. On the surface this may seem ridiculous and such discussion risks being seen as ‘greenwashing’ as the aviation industry is widely perceived to be one of the worst offenders in the climate debate.  

The reality is somewhat different. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2021 around two percent of global energy related CO2 emissions were caused by the aviation industry – less than 1/10th of the emissions of road transport. Despite this fact, an industry that consumes 80 billion gallons of fuel annually is always going to struggle to be seen as committed to sustainability.

Unfortunately, those outside the industry tend to look for populist and broad brush solutions (such as banning flights shorter than an arbitrary length, or banning First Class cabins altogether) rather than working with the industry or placing its impact in context. It is perhaps more laudable therefore that, despite facing significant opposition, the industry recognises the need to act and remains focused on doing what it can to reduce its impact on the environment.

New innovation in seating

Foremost is the drive to reduce weight onboard. More weight equals more fuel burn so the industry has been pushing hard to address the weight of cabin seating. One example from AIX was the Crystal Cabin Award winning lightweight aircraft seating concept from students at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Meanwhile Paris-based Expliseat was showcasing its TiSeat range of aircraft seating, which it claims is the lightest in the world. Focused on regional aircraft as well as single aisle airlines, the seating is made from titanium and composite materials that combine strength and light-weight. This is particularly important because all aircraft seating needs to comply with regulations that deliver the most stringent safety assurances.

Aircraft seating manufacturers are also increasingly looking to recycled and recyclable materials to reduce the impact of their products. One good example on display at the show was Acro’s series 9 seat, which is 99 percent recyclable. Thompson Aero Seating has also focussed on sustainability through low carbon intensity leather materials, increased use of undyed wool and the deployment of recycled materials in carpet fabric. All of these sustainable innovations will be available in Thompson’s latest full flat business class seat named Vantage.

Driving weight (and fuel burn) down

Many of the companies showcasing their food and beverage solutions at AIX were keen to focus on the importance of asking passengers what they might want to eat and drink before the flight – therefore reducing the amount of waste goods carried on board. Innovative ways of packaging food and drink onboard can also save both weight and space. One great example of this was the Nio range of pre-mixed cocktails that are easy light and simple to pour onboard, providing an alternative to carrying multiple glass bottles for that perfect cocktail in the sky.

An industry taking sustainability seriously

Despite the questions continually raised to the aviation industry regarding a sustainable future, I brought away the impression that the industry is taking its role in driving a circular economy seriously.  Of course, there is a long way to go before the industry can truly claim to be net zero; but despite this, the actions of suppliers to the industry in working towards a lighter, greener future present an impressive step in the right direction.