Airbus pollution control entrusted to bees

Bees are important to everyone because they pollinate much of our food, but Airbus is relying on them to provide a unique service — to help reduce its environmental footprint.

In this ingenious project, bees inform Airbus on how much pollution it causes at Finkenwerder Airport in Hamburg, Germany.

Airbus maintains two beehives at the airport: near the aircraft paint shop and close to the runway. The tens of thousands of bees in these hives produce more than 160 kilograms of honey a year. About 600 jars of honey are tested for the presence of pollutants and the rest are given as gifts to customers, suppliers and staff. 

To produce the honey, the bees harvest pollen and nectar from hundreds of thousands of plants across about 4.5 square miles — providing key data on the quality of the soil, air and water, and whether there are metal or chemical deposits on flowers.

After analyzing the honey for the past five years at an independent lab, the results show that pollution levels from Airbus facilities are even lower than in the center of Hamburg.  

"We have tested three different parameters this year: wax, pollen and honey, from two different beehive locations," said Eberhard Schädlich, fulltime beekeeper for Airbus. "We are very proud to say that every single result shows pollution levels are well under approved limits."

Airbus is one of the more active aviation companies when it comes to developing airplanes that fly on biofuels or fuel cells.

It's also leading on efficiency. It developed TaxiBot (with partners) to tug airplanes around airports without using engines. Its airplanes — which use 15 percent less energy — are being snapped up by the industry at the fastest rate in the history of aviation.

The company says airlines could derive 30 percent of their fuel from plant-based sources — including farm waste — by 2030. Higher fuel costs would push this along faster.