Tue 10 July 2018 – Climate change will damage aviation infrastructure, alter patterns of passenger demand and lead to more operational disruption, yet only half of industry organisations have begun to plan for this, says a Eurocontrol report looking at challenges facing commercial aviation in Europe between now and 2040. Under a ‘most likely’ scenario, the number of flights within Europe could grow at a rate of 1.9% per year to reach 16.2 million flights a year by 2040, or 53% higher than today. However, Europe is already struggling to cope with existing levels of traffic and a lack of airport capacity will lead to even higher delays and 1.5 million unaccommodated flights per year by 2040. As well as a capacity challenge, a future climate with changes to temperatures, rainfall, wind and storm patterns, and the sea level requires industry to move faster with adaptation, says the intergovernmental air traffic management body.
Eurocontrol’s latest ‘European Aviation in 2040 – Challenges of Growth’ report is aimed at providing decision-makers with information and forecasts to support long-term planning and managing risk. It uses four scenarios to model future patterns, with the ‘most likely’ scenario, labelled Regulation and Growth, seeing moderate growth regulated to reconcile demand with environmental sustainability issues.
The previous report, published in 2013, included a study of climate change risk and resilience. It considered the results of a stakeholder consultation and survey to determine to what extent the aviation industry considered adaptations are necessary to address the risks of climate change, and what actions are being implemented or planned. It also reviewed climate change risks out to 2050, by which time the impacts are expected to be widely felt, and identifies several key actions the industry could take to reduce those risks.
For the 2018 report, the survey was re-run and with more than 90 replies, a much larger response was received. A clear majority of respondents – 57% against 52% in 2013 – believe their businesses will be affected by climate change, with around a quarter indicating they are already being affected. Although 86% considered adaptation actions to reduce the impacts of climate change may be necessary now or in the future, only 52% said they had begun planning.
“Respondents gave reasons for not taking action that included lack of information and lack of resources, but this delay in taking action is a clear risk for the future,” says the report.
“A theme of Challenges of Growth is sounding an early warning, leading to actions that are taken in good time. We need to do more here to understand the gap between need and real planning for action: what are the reasons for this gap. Are they valid? If not, what can be done to encourage investments that take climate change into account?”
Eurocontrol says that later in 2018 it intends publishing a separate report on environmental issues that will provide a forecast of CO2 emissions and how aviation is reducing its impact; and how prepared European aviation is to adapt to climate change.
The 2018 Challenges of Growth report suggest that after cutting back between 2008 and 2013, European airports are expanding their capacity plans again, with 111 airports planning a 16% increase in capacity between them and 4 million more runway movements. This growth is concentrated on the top 20 airports, which are planning growth of 28% and an additional 2.4 million flights.
The 53% growth forecast to 2040 is actually rather slower growth than before 2008. Eurocontrol anticipates a slow-down from 2035 as markets mature, economic growth decelerates and as airport capacity limits across Europe become an increasing issue. Airport capacity constraints could mean current average summer flight delays of 12 minutes jumping to 20 minutes per flight in 2040, and the number of flights delayed by one to two hours increasing by a factor of seven.
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