Climate change effects on weather poses real threat to aviation safety, say European states
Thu 22 Apr 2010 – Although much emphasis has been placed on the impact that commercial aviation has on the environment, less attention has been given to the impact that climate change may have on aviation safety. This is the view of a paper presented at the recent ICAO High-Level Safety Conference by member states of the EU, member states of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) and Eurocontrol. Weather has been a hazard since aviators first took to the air, says the paper, but in the future there is likely to be more frequent hostile weather that will present a challenge to aviation safety. The paper announces an international conference is to take place in Germany in September under the auspices of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to raise awareness of the issue.
The European paper cites analysis that shows nearly 20% of air accidents and around 8% of all fatal accidents are weather related, with turbulence encounters and icing proving significant factors.
There is a potential, it says, for growth in intense weather phenomena like ‘supercells’ – the largest class of thunderstorms – which have features that include rain, wind, windshear, hail, turbulence and lightning.
The paper says the proposition that there might be an increased impact of climate change on aviation safety needs to be further tested. It suggests evidence and expert opinion should be brought together to answer a range of questions: Does the international aviation community have a plan to adapt commercial aviation to the new weather environment? What additional safety related mitigations may need to be put in place to address climate change induced extreme weather?
The paper calls on the international aviation community to work together to develop, disseminate and transfer technologies and operational concepts that advance adaptation efforts.
“Commitment of the authorities and industry is needed to facilitate the implementation of changes and improvements to the international aviation system, aiming to adapt and minimize the adverse impact that climate change may have on commercial aviation safety,” it states.
It warns that a new generation of aircraft, engines and air traffic systems to be introduced over the next few decades may present new safety issues with respect to severe weather.
“New materials, leaner engines and higher densities of air traffic each could present a specific challenge to safe operations if weather hazards are not fully understood,” it explains. “For example, systems to ensure a laminar flow over the wings may be developed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The high sensitivity of laminar flow wings to the roughness of their surface may lead to a revision of icing standards.”
Two new EU-funded projects – EWENT and WEATHER – have now set out to examine the effects of changing weather patterns on transport in Europe.
The objective of international conference called by Europe – to be held in Cologne on 8/9 September 2010 – would be, as a first step, to raise awareness on the issue of the effects of climate change on aviation safety and outline a possible action plan. Europe, through EASA, intends to report to ICAO on the outcome of the conference and any resulting recommendations.
“The issue is indeed a global one where international cooperation is essential,” concludes the paper.