Researching ways to fulfil my passion for travelling while reducing my impact on the planet

I can still recall the day when I first heard about the Bursary Competition from Jo Ward who organises the event annually. She told me it was a great opportunity to do something that is highly related to the work I do, but at the same time would allow me to get involved in a project I might not be able to do in my day to day tasks. So, when I saw the main topic for 2019 was climate change, I did not hesitate to submit my proposal.

However, when it came to choosing a research topic that was relevant to both Transport Planners and Climate Change, I was slightly overwhelmed. We all know that transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, so there’s a lot of different ways Transport Planners could, and should, help to reduce the impact on our climate.

Luckily, I was given the best advice from the winner of the 2018 Bursary Competition; no matter what I’m planning researching, the most important thing is I need to absolutely love and be passionate about the topic, because I will spend a lot of my free time working on it. It was without a doubt the best advice, and it actually helped me to choose my research topic instantly.

I love travelling and experiencing other cultures, which means I try to visit as many countries as I can in my free time. This allows me to learn about our world in a different way, to understand how diverse our cultures are and to see first-hand how other communities are operating. Unfortunately, the quickest and sometimes cheapest way to do this on a regular basis is by flying. As a transport planner I am also highly aware of the impact one single flight journey could have on the climate. So it became clear that as part of my research, I would try to find ways I could help fulfil my passion for travelling, while also reducing my impact on our planet.

I have set foot in many airports around the world, and my overall experience at any airport was instantly influenced by how easily I could get to my final destination or vice versa. Therefore, I think it’s important to address the fact that even though, strictly speaking, air travel is ‘the action or process of making a journey by aircraft’, most people’s journeys don’t start at the airport. They start somewhere else, which makes good surface access crucial for an airport to operate both successfully and sustainably.

For this reason, in my research I wanted to emphasise that sustainable air travel does not start in the air, it actually begins on the ground. While we are all aware that surface access emissions are lower than those from aircrafts, this is one of the main emissions that airports can influence. Most importantly, by creating good surface access, other important areas such as health, wellbeing, traffic delay and congestion, energy use, noise and air quality in the surrounding area can be improved simultaneously.

Why I chose to focus my research on Manchester Airport

I chose to carry out my research through a case study and I selected Manchester Airport for multiple reasons. First of all, I live in close proximity to the airport, which I use regularly, so I had both a personal connection to the airport and the chance to collect any primary research material as sustainably as possible. Secondly, the airport is the third busiest passenger airport in the UK, therefore it plays an important part in regional growth and strengthening the North’s connectivity. Finally, the airport ranks highest in the UK for passenger access by car, therefore a significant modal shift to public transport is needed.

To highlight where and how transport planners could do more in this area, I firstly focused on and examined how the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) could be further adopted to the surface access element of aviation by using successful examples from other airports around the world. The aviation sector already supports and complements 15 out of the 17 SDG Goals just through its day-to-day operation, so my aim was to see how many SDG targets could be supported and achieved through successful surface access.

While researching environmentally friendly airports and reading about their actions to create sustainable aviation, I realised we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel; instead, we should just see if certain initiatives could be tailored to the individual airport, as there will never be a ‘one fits all’ solution to achieve targets.

I also realised that to achieve any of the proposed SGD targets by 2030, we need to better understand consumers` behaviour and how to influence them. Therefore, in the second part of my paper my focus fell on the challenges and potential ways to behavioural change, as people`s awareness and understanding of climate change does not necessarily reflect in their actions with respect to mode of transport. As professionals we need to be more aware that a mixture of commercial and personal decisions, as well as other factors such as time, accessibility, affordability, comfort, personal safety, convenience and reliability, play a part when choosing the method of accessing airports. Passengers and staff have different needs too, which makes the tailoring of different measures even more challenging. So we need to use segmentation based on individual’s needs, preferences and psychological attitudes or motivations regarding surface access travel, not just sociodemographic classification.

Of course reading about facts is one way to see the bigger picture, but in order to better understand the current/site specific situation at Manchester Airport and get to know how the airport itself feels about the future, my desk-based research was complemented by a face-to-face discussion with Manchester Airport Group`s Planning and Surface Access Strategy Managers. This allowed me to have answers to my questions, to gain information about future plans and initiatives that were not available for the public at the time, and to share some of my point of view on this topic. This was because I realised that we Transport Planners will not be able to reduce the massive effect of transportation on our own, so we need to create strong relationships with other domains and work together in order to tackle climate crisis.

Recommendations for Transport Planners

While I had time constraints and a word limit on my research paper, there is no limit on expanding and sharing my knowledge on this topic and I highly recommend that all Transport Planners do the same.

I think we all should:

  • Become experts on climate change by constantly educating ourselves and following up on recent events;
  • Be active about climate crises by talking about these issues with a wider audience and reminding people how important this topic is;
  • Accept the fact that we need strong relationships with other domains, so start building and nurturing for these connections; and
  • Continuously inspire our community and future generations with the actions we take to tackle the climate crisis.

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