The earth’s climate is changing, influencing air transport networks and infrastructure worldwide. The projected changes in global climate could intensify existing risks or create new types of risk that may have wide-ranging impacts on the aviation sector.
In this blog, Asimina Voskaki, Senior Manager and Environmental Lead at CAA International, explores some key considerations on how aviation can increase its climate resilience, and the importance of robust and resilient systems to mitigate the risk associated with the effects of climate change.
By Asimina Voskaki, Senior Manager at CAAi
How does climate change impact aviation?
Climate models project that global mean surface temperature could increase up to 4.8oC, sea level could rise up to 0.82m above the baseline levels, and extreme weather could become more intense and frequent in many regions. A recent study revealed that sea-level rise linked to a 2oC temperature increase would place 100 coastal or low-lying airports below the mean sea level and 364 airports at risk of flooding.
The specific climate change impacts to aviation systems tend to vary according to the different geographical climate zones, the level of vulnerability and the scale of adaptation. Some of these consequences, especially those relating to climate extremes, are already observed in different parts of the world. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy affected the Atlantic coast of North America, and according to IATA, caused the cancellation of nearly 17,000 inbound or outbound flights, affecting an estimated US$0.5 billion in airline revenues. The hurricane generated a storm surge of up to 9ft above normal tide levels causing extensive flood damage to La Guardia and Kennedy airports. In 2018, Kansai International Airport was hit by Typhoon Jebi, resulting in the airport’s closure for three days due to flooding. It took 17 days for the airport to resume passenger operations. The total economic impact to both the airport and the local economy was estimated at around half a billion USD.
Climate change can impact every aspect of the aviation sector. It can influence the structural and operational performance of the infrastructure, disrupt the operations, compromise the safety, or even lead to increased operating/maintenance/repair cost leading to seasonal or permanent demand redistribution. It can also affect other parts of the network, causing ripple effects across multiple business and economic sectors.
Planning for adaptation
Planning for adaptation is essential to ensure that aviation systems are designed with a view for future climate changes. Also, aviation infrastructure is costly to build and is designed to last for decades, making its replacement difficult and expensive. Therefore, understanding regional climate and related change is necessary to identify and address priorities for action.
A commonly applied practice to support the selection of adaptation options is assessing climate risk and associated vulnerabilities, setting priorities, and establishing a tailored climate adaptation plan. The choice of adaptation measures mainly relates to the characteristics of the climate hazards and anticipated impact, along with the features of the specific aviation system. Depending on the particular climate hazard, adaptation options may vary from redesigning or safeguarding the infrastructure, improving the emergency response mechanism, early warning systems or awareness activities.
Adaptation actions are already being undertaken at the national or organisational level in some parts of the world. In some instances, the measures address the climate risk only partially or do not seem adequate to cope with the extremes. In other cases, adaptation measures are typically a response after an extreme climate event without being part of a broader short, medium or long-term adaptation planning.
Aviation restart and climate resilience
We can reduce climate risks by upscaling existing aviation systems and accelerating adaptation. How feasible is this now, considering the associated cost, and what lessons can we learn from the Covid-19 response?
We need to understand the adaptation priorities and means to achieve them. Only then we can strengthen the parts of the system that will be directly affected. It is important to have policies in place with a focus on the long-term benefits. Decisions taken during aviation recovery will probably influence the future development direction. We need to ensure that fit for purpose adaptation actions will be prioritised. To achieve that, planning and decision making should integrate climate science and research to allow targeted interventions. Breaking down adaptation plans into steps will accelerate the progress and make it easier to secure investments.
The global response to Covid-19 offered some lessons learnt – like the coronavirus, climate change also ignores borders, and in some cases, a coordinated approach can guarantee early preparation, better response to events and quicker recovery. For aviation to increase its adaptive capacity, we need to advance our understanding of climate change risks, be able to assess the level of risks, raise awareness, train and build capacity, be proactive and prepare ahead, prioritise actions in our decision making, collaborate with relevant stakeholders and link adaptation to other action plans.
Environmental advice and training
To support National Aviation Authorities and the aviation industry organisations in addressing the impact of aviation on climate change, we offer advisory services and a suite of training courses, covering noise management, modelling and contouring, climate change mitigation and adaptation, ICAO CORSIA advice and implementation and environmental impact and assessment.
If you would like to discuss how CAAi can support you and your organisation in improving your environmental performance, please email Asimina.Voskaki@caa.co.uk. To discuss or book your place on our training courses, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.