The reality of climate change
All too often, the need to plan for the effects of climate change on airports is overlooked in favour of tackling more immediately measurable problems such as emissions, air quality and noise. Yet, in the past five years, over 20 major and many more small island airports have flooded due to a rise in sea level, storm surges or extreme rainfall. These include the devastation of Kansai airport by Typhoon Jebi (2018); severe rainfall in Kerala (2019) leading to the shutdown of Cochin airport; flooding at Don Mueang Airport in Thailand (2011) resulting in a year of disruption; and the shutdown of airports in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian (2019).
Lack of climate resiliency planning could have a massive impact on large airports, the companies that rely on them and the surrounding cities, as well as on the small island states where the airport is the main economic driver and a critical asset during disaster responses.
Also, too little water can cause issues. From cooling systems to plane washing and passenger needs, airports have huge water footprints which can significantly affect regional water supplies and result in major operational challenges during periods of shortage. This demand is set to rise as the trend towards mega-airports and the proliferation of small island airports continues. Airports must seek to reduce their water footprint through the collection, treatment and reuse of water and strive towards the ideal of closed water systems.
Airports are essential to disaster response for cities and islands, so must be able to operate during extreme weather events. In 2012, hurricane Sandy wrought havoc along the New York and New Jersey coastline, and associated flooding at the regional airports forced disaster relief teams to use alternative airports and travel by road into the disaster area.
Airports in small island states are a lifeline during disaster response situations but can quickly be overwhelmed by incoming aid supplies. A comprehensive understanding of the airport’s capacities and the establishment of a robust disaster response plan are key to keeping these critical assets operational.
Embracing a more resilient future
When Fiji’s main airport was closed due to flooding following Cyclone Evan (2012), it sent shockwaves through the country’s tourism industry and precipitated a major review of the airport’s business continuity plans. Similarly, operators who suffer a weather-related event at one airport have been keen to undertake a review across their portfolio.