Airports and climate resilience

Date Published

15/12/2020

Reading time

3 mins read

Author

Dr Xiangyu Sheng and Ruairi Martin

In the second instalment of our aviation series, we’re focusing on the topic of climate resilience, what it means for airports, and how taking certain actions now can secure or threaten their operational futures.

This instalment addresses one critical truth - that many airports simply will not withstand the consequences of the climate crisis.

The topic of climate resilience is a lesser-known and certainly less commonly discussed concern, but for the aviation industry, the outputs and symptoms of climate change (including strong winds, fog, overheating, flooding, and natural fires) all heavily impact airports and airlines – throwing their very ability to operate into disarray.

This may seem like a fairly unlikely concern, but it really isn’t, and certainly would have seemed less preposterous than the actual events of 2020. Who would have believed that the global aviation industry (airlines, airports and supply chain) would have been so damaged by a virus only last year? The last twelve months have been many things to the aviation sector, and to us all. The cold truth is that it has been a bruising, often fatal blow to our industry, and this year will never be forgotten.  If there is one glint of positive for the sector looking back at this cataclysmic year, it may be that 2020 has also provided the steepest learning experience of all time. What exactly we’ll learn from this year remains to be seen – but learn we will!

When considering the sector’s climate resilience levels, we especially look to airports. It is they who, in making (or not) certain changes now, can set themselves up for not only future survival, but exponential growth. The ‘changes’ in order to enhance climate resilience include the installation of physical, structural and digital safeguards, essentially armouring an airport with the agility required to survive and thrive today and tomorrow.

Fortunately, both modern and old airports can - and absolutely must - be adapted to ensure they are resilient, and this is where Capita can help. For new airports, it is of course essential that climate adaptations are ‘baked into’ the early design and planning stages, and that appropriate materials are used in build to withstand weather extremes and deliver genuine climate resilience. For existing airports, resilience is also achievable and certain minor changes and adaptations can drastically improve their pliability to climate change risks. Our experts can provide a review of the baseline climate for an airport’s locality and provide forecasts of the future climactic changes that area is likely to be subjected to over the next number of decades.

We can then conduct a climate change risk assessment (CCRA) to highlight the potential impacts of extreme weather types, the airport’s sensitivity to adverse impacts, its adaptive capacity to operate when faced with adverse weather types, and specific effects and consequences of each. The report also identifies the environmental and social impacts that these risks could trigger.

Following the assessment, Capita can investigate the highest risks for any specific airport and provide recommendations to maximise resilience and mitigate the risks involved. Potential actions include the introduction of flood-resistant construction materials and defences to protect airport runways, infrastructure, buildings, and property.

Importantly, Capita’s climate resilience and adaptation plans incorporate actions and emergency responses that can be adopted early in accordance with identified risks, ensuring the airport can continue to operate despite extreme conditions.

Our aviation and infrastructure experts partner with airports to assess and audit their current levels of resilience and compare their results to scientifically proven future needs. As an organisation born out of expert delivery, we can also provide the advice, guidance, implementation and continual testing of solutions to ensure airports remain operational throughout future climate changes and emergencies.

Going forward, airlines will be forced to prioritise the physical, digital and cultural infrastructures of airports when choosing operational locations, and only those that address climate resilience will thrive in the coming years.

The unavoidable decarbonisation of air traffic will lead to the replacement of fossil fuels for cleaner forms of power – anticipated to generate lower noise emissions. This is likely to change the acoustic footprint of airports and flight paths, opening an opportunity to minimise adverse noise effects, and to reduce the current need for noise insulation schemes in some locations.

Our environmental specialists are on-hand for any conversations that UK airports wish to have about their carbon, climate resilience and air quality requirements.

Written by

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Dr Xiangyu Sheng

Director of Climate Change and Air Quality, GL Hearn (part of Capita Plc)

Dr Sheng is leading our air quality and climate change team to provide solutions to the most complex challenges. She has over 25 years' experience and is a Fellow of the Meteorological Society (FRMets), a Chartered Engineer (CEng), a Chartered Physicist (CPhys), a Chartered Scientist (CSci) and a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv).

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Ruairi Martin BEng (Hons) DIS CEng MIStructE

Aviation Director, Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure

As Aviation Director for Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure and a Chartered Structural Engineer, Ruairi is passionate about promoting our expertise to the Aviation Industry, both nationally and globally and in using cross sector innovation to provide environmentally sustainable solutions. Ruairi has over 30 years experience in the construction industry and has involved in major projects in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and South America as well as in the UK and Europe.

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