New York's LaGuardia Airport under water after Hurricane Sandy
Fri 21 Nov 2014 – Although the air transport sector is used to dealing with adverse weather events, these disruptions are likely to become more extreme and more frequent as we experience the growing impact of climate change, warns Europe’s air traffic organisation Eurocontrol. Following a report it published last year detailing the potential impacts of temperature increase, sea-level rise and other changes in climate on the European air transport network, Eurocontrol has joined with airport trade body ACI Europe and other organisations to produce a collaborative factsheet, ‘Adapting Aviation to a Changing Climate’. Unveiled at the recent ACI Airport Exchange event in Paris, the factsheet outlines the potential risks and also provides a checklist of questions and case studies to help the sector initiate their climate risk assessments.
“As the network manager, Eurocontrol is committed to fully supporting European aviation to reduce the emissions that lead to climate change,” said Frank Brenner, Director General. “However, climate change will have a range of impacts on European aviation in the coming years and this report helps identify these impacts so they can be adequately addressed.”
In consultation with IATA, the factsheet has been compiled in cooperation with national air navigation service providers (ANSPs) Aena, Avinor and NATS, together with France’s DGAC/STAC, Heathrow Airport and Manchester Metropolitan University.
“Generally, we can expect in Europe an increase in temperatures, a decrease in water availability in southern regions, increasing convective weather in central regions and an increase in precipitation in northern regions,” Eurocontrol Policy Officer Rachel Burbidge told the Paris conference.
This would require, she said, aviation service providers to identify the risks and implement local and network resilience measures appropriate to their area. “A lot of the impacts will be centred on airports so this isn’t just operational risks concerned with delays and punctuality, this can also affect infrastructure. For example, increased precipitation may cause issues with surface drainage, whereas warmer temperatures may lead to runway surface problems.”
Many organisations were not yet considering climate impact risks, reported Burbidge, and early action was important to build cost-effective resilience into infrastructure and operations planning.
The factsheet aims to work as a checklist for stakeholders to begin to assess whether climate change impacts are a risk to them and provides a list of aviation climate adaptation resources as well as case studies of how some organisations are already adapting to potential impacts.
Olav Mosvald Larsen, Senior Executive Adviser at Norwegian ANSP and airport operator Avinor, told the conference his organisation had been looking at climate adaptation since 2001. As infrastructure constructed today was intended to last for decades, and therefore during when climate impacts may be felt, “thinking ahead is smart,” he said.
The future weather in Northern Europe is predicted to be warmer, wetter and wilder, said Larsen, with the effects already taking place at airports like Svalbard where changes in the permafrost level had caused settlement damage on parts of the runway. A combination of wetter weather and bad drainage had resulted in holes in the runway at Stavanger and rocks on the runway at another airport following a major storm. To protect against waves and erosion, Avinor now required runways not to be built lower than 7 metres above sea level, he said.
Avinor estimates around 20 of its 46 airports are exposed to weather events and has carried out a long-term climate risk assessment of 42 of its airports, identifying 11 described as critical.
Elliott Black, Director of the FAA’s Office of Airport Planning & Programming, said concerns about climate change had been raised in the organisation a while back but it had taken a couple of events to galvanise action. The first, in 2009, had been serious concerns over a high risk of flooding at Omaha Airport from the nearby Missouri River but had been averted by preventive steps taken by the airport. The second was impact of tropical storm Sandy in 2012 on the US East Coast aviation system, particularly at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which had been “a wake-up call” for administrators, he said.
Many airports in the United States had been relegated to being built in low-lying areas near coasts and rivers, said Black, with 244 airports out of around 3,300 identified at risk from a flood event and about 2,500 located just 1.5 nautical miles from the coast or waterways.
“When sea levels rise, we will have a problem,” he told delegates. “However, what we learned from Omaha was that there are steps that can be taken to protect airports.”
He said one way to minimise risk was over time to raise the level of runways through slow, incremental investment.
The technical services department of the French civil aviation authority (DGAC/STAC) has been tasked with assessing airport vulnerability to climate change, Aubin Lopez, Project Manager, told the conference. The department has set up the VULCLIM project that aims to qualify and quantify the risk that climate change poses to airports in order to raise operator’s awareness on their resilience capacity.
The process first identifies a list of climate change hazards and consequences for airports and then develops a methodology to qualify and quantify the associated risks. An automated tool is being developed for airports to spot their strengths and weaknesses.
Andrew Watt, Head of Eurocontrol’s Environmental Unit, said developing countries were becoming ever more interested in greening their airports and ICAO airport planning material was in the process of being compiled that would cover climate change adaptation.
Commenting on the new factsheet, ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec said: “We have been monitoring both sides of the climate change equation for many years – reducing the airport industry’s contribution through our Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and now providing our members with a toolkit to help them assess, plan and prepare for the potential effects of climate change on their operations.
“Quite aside from the safety aspect, airport capacity is an increasingly scarce resource here in Europe and needs to be maintained and protected accordingly. Fundamentally, this is about safeguarding connectivity and the economic prosperity that depends on it.”
Eurocontrol – Adapting Aviation to a Changing Climate
Eurocontrol –‘Challenges of Growth: Climate Change Risk & Resilience’ report (pdf)
Impacts for European aviation by climate zone (source: Eurocontrol)
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