Scientists point to climate change risks to airports, suggest adaptation measures

Vinson Kurian | Updated on: Feb 08, 2022

Specific indicators for hazard, exposure and vulnerability identified

Climate change poses key risks to the aviation sector from temperature increases, extreme precipitations, changes to storm and wind patterns, sea level rise and storm surges. 

The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) gave vent to these concerns n a report ‘Challenges of Growth 2013’ dealing with climate change impacts on the aviation sector.

A study recently authored by Marta Ellena and Paola Mercogliano, Scientist and Director respectively the Regional Models and Geo-Hydrological Impacts Division at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change, has come out with theoretical frameworks on assessment of the risks scenario.

Theoretical frameworks

“The illustrated methodology represents one of the first attempts to quantify risks in the airport environment”, according to Mercogliano, who goes on to explain that the methodology proposes an approach with the goal to define a specific risk for each hazard considered. 

The findings reveal that airports located in the Mediterranean regions will mainly have to face the risks associated with these climatic hazards. However, it is possible to replicate the application of these frameworks in other geographical contexts affected by the same risks, Mercogliano says.

The method proposed aims to support stakeholders in conducting risk analyses in order to identify suitable adaptation strategies. Based on the supporting literature, the theoretical frameworks were constructed through the identification of specific indicators of hazard, exposure and vulnerability.

Extreme temperature risk

In Framework 1 - Climate risk due to extreme temperatures , the selected climate indices are based on temperature thresholds that may damage runway surfaces, aprons, taxiways, parking areas or that may cause an interruption of airport activities. 

Additionally, extreme temperatures cause more pressure on local services, i.e. water and electricity for building cooling, and technical problems with radars for air traffic control. Based on these main vulnerabilities for airports reported in the literature, researchers chose the sensitivity indicators. 

In Framework 2 - Climate risk due to extreme precipitations , the climatic indicators were chosen based on precipitation thresholds that determine high impacts on airport components. Extreme rainfall events could compromise the drainage capacity of the airport, with an increase in flooding. 

Extreme rain, rising seal level

In Framework 3 - Climate risk due to sea level rise, sea level rise and storm surge level indicators were selected to describe the coastal flooding. Many airports are built along the coasts or in floodplains to facilitate take-off and landing, but these areas are more exposed to sea level rise and storm surges. 

To cope with thermal damages due to extreme temperature events, runways, taxiways and other structures should be resurfaced with heat resistant materials. In areas where higher temperatures can pose a challenge to aircraft take-offs, adaptation measures include building longer runways or performing intercontinental flights in the evening when temperatures drop. 

Adaptation measures

Installation of roofs and walls with vegetation on airport structures are excellent green measures to mitigate the effects of extreme temperatures, save energy and to reduce the flow of rainwater.

 To cope with floods, airports need to implement adaptation strategies, which mainly concern the construction of efficient drainage systems as well as the development of adequate warning systems.

Other adaptation measures common to all three frameworks are adhesion of airports to adaptation initiatives aimed at acquiring greater awareness of the risk of climate change impacts and insurance cover for extreme events, introducing tools for effective management of damages and losses.

Published on February 08, 2022
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