Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has launched a competition for the first airline to operate a zero-emission commercial flight from one of its airports.

The winning airline will secure five years’ free landing fees, which are currently valued at £1.3 million.

The group, which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, has also pledged to become a net-zero carbon business by 2038 – twelve years before the UK aviation industry’s 2050 target.

The initiative coincides with discussions regarding the UK’s green recovery and the publication of the group’s annual CSR report. The report reveals that MAG has become the first carbon neutral airport operator in the UK and has seen a 12 per cent reduction in carbon emissions since 2015.

The competition comes after an array of eco-friendly inventions over the past few months. Last month, Airbus unveiled ZEROe, a project consisting of three concepts for zero-emission hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft, which it hopes to put into service by 2035. Additionally, the first commercial-grade six-seater aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cell was revealed at Cranfield University in September.

The group is also a founding member of the government’s Jet Zero Council, which aims to launch a zero-emission long-haul aircraft by 2050. The council plans to meet for a second time in the coming days.

Charlie Cornish, CEO of MAG, commented on the news:

“At MAG, we have always been ambitious in our approach to sustainability. We were the first airport operator in the UK to reach carbon neutrality and we were delighted to join the Government’s Jet Zero Council as a founding member earlier this year.

“This competition is the next step in that journey, as we work towards reaching net zero ourselves by 2038 and supporting all of UK aviation to get there by 2050.

“While we push through the significant challenges that coronavirus has placed on our industry, we must keep looking to the future and the exciting innovations that will be critical for the future of flying.”

Neil Robinson, CSR and Airspace Change Director at MAG, added:

“When our airports prosper our communities around them prosper, but in tougher times we can help support each other too. We have a long history of working very closely in our local communities and, for us, sustainability means more than just reducing carbon, it means becoming a business that has long standing, sustainable relationships with our environment, people and communities at all levels.

“In striving to be the best possible neighbour, we also continuously focus on improving employment opportunities – and that means ensuring we have the right support on offer at our airports to help people find work, including airport academies, Further Education colleges and our ‘Aerozones’ that introduce school children to aviation.

“Having this framework in place will be even more important as we recover from Covid 19. This year’s annual CSR report demonstrates another great year of achievement and I look forward to delivering on our ambitious new five year strategy.”

Heathrow airport announced a similar initiative in 2018, launching a £1 million incentive to the first regular electric-hybrid aircraft to enter service at the airport. The prize also consisted of waiving landing fees for a year.

Sustainable Aviation, the UK aviation industry’s sustainability group, has predicted that the sector can expect to see the first regional short range hybrid electric flights from 2035.