The aviation sector must act now to adapt and build resilience to climate change risks, advises Eurocontrol study
Sun 12 May 2013 – The European aviation sector will need to build climate resilience while dealing with growth in demand, with some regions where the highest rates of growth are expected are also areas which may experience the most severe impacts of climate change. Although a growing number of actors within the sector are already taking comprehensive adaptation steps, many organisations have yet to consider this issue, finds a study by Eurocontrol. Changes to temperature, precipitation and storm patterns are all expected in the near-term, certainly by 2030, warns the body responsible for European air navigation safety. The sector must prepare for the effects of heavy precipitation events, larger and more powerful storms, and changes in prevailing wind direction. Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the USA in 2012, grounded nearly 17,000 flights, representing eight to nine per cent of global capacity, and losing the industry around half a billion dollars.
‘Challenges of Growth 2013’ is part of a series of studies carried out by Eurocontrol since 2001 aimed at providing decision-makers with the best available information to support long-term planning decisions for European aviation. The previous study in 2008 identified the impacts of climate change as a potential operational and financial risk to European aviation, with a particular focus on the capacity of the air transport network.
Aviation is highly weather-dependant, says Eurocontrol, and almost 6% of total primary delay in Europe in 2011 was due to weather. Convective activity is the biggest cause of weather regulations in the summer period while snow and fog is the main constraint in the winter. The overstretched European aviation network is particularly vulnerable to a loss of performance in any single component – when one major airport or airspace sector is closed, average traffic delays can increase across the system as a whole – and so the potential impact of climate change must be addressed.
“Climate change could pose significant financial and operational risk for the aviation industry, although there remain uncertainties as to the extent, severity and timing of impacts,” says the study.
In general, says Eurocontrol, Europe should prepare for higher temperatures and, with the exception of Southern Europe, an increase in precipitation. Increased summer heat and humidity around the Mediterranean Basin may impact traffic demand to traditional holiday destinations. Increased temperatures could also cause changes to aircraft climb performance, which in turn would affect the distribution of local noise impacts. Heavy precipitation events can impact airport throughput and challenge an airport’s surface drainage capacity.
Snowfall is expected to generally decrease throughout Europe although there may be heavy snow events in new areas and an increase in more challenging wet snow conditions. Snow where it is not usually experienced has the biggest effect on airport operations due to a relative lack of preparedness and, moreover the impact of snow can be directly proportional to the number of aircraft affected, says Eurocontrol. A balance needs to be struck between the financial costs of snow clearing and de-icing equipment and an adequate level of preparedness, it advises.
The strongest storms are expected to become larger and more powerful, impacting flight regularity and punctuality, particularly at major hub airports, while also having implications for flying pre-determined 4D trajectories. Changes in prevailing wind direction are also expected, leading to an increase in crosswinds. Associated changes in procedure may have an environmental impact and reduce capacity at airports with no crosswind runway.
A central part of the 2013 work by Eurocontrol was a stakeholder consultation to determine whether the industry now considered that measures to increase climate resilience are required and what actions they are taking. A survey was sent to operational organisations, and industry and civil aviation associations. Eurocontrol also held a follow-up workshop.
Over three-quarters of survey respondents indicated an expectation that they will need to take action to adapt to the potential impacts of climate change, signifying a heightened level of awareness compared to feedback in 2008 and a growing number already taking action. “However, many organisations have yet to consider this issue,” adds the study.
Impacts of climate change will vary according to geographical location and type of organisation but actions that could be taken include climate change risk assessments; identification and implementation of specific local and network-wide resilience measures; training at both a local and pan-European scale; and increased collaboration with meteorological services to better exploit advanced forecasting techniques.
The study notes the financial sector is seeing adaptation to the impacts of climate change as increasingly important. The World Bank has doubled lending for adaptation projects in the past year and the European Investment Bank now has a stipulation that all new projects must address climate resilience.
“The interconnectedness of the European and global aviation system necessitates an integrated approach to building resilience,” advises Eurocontrol. “Therefore, we need to work collaboratively to implement solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible whilst tackling the challenge of increasing demand. Early action is the key to building resilience at the lowest costs. Therefore, the time to act is now.”
The ‘Challenges of Growth’ reports are the work of the Directorate Network Management at Eurocontrol. Commenting on the latest study, Jacques Dopagne, Director Network Management, said: “Climate change is an issue of risk management. This involves creating resilience in the core of standard operational practices.”
He said it was essential to mitigate the impact on operations whilst ensuring that safety will be maintained in all circumstances. The Air Traffic Management network must build resilience to climate risks as with other crisis situations such as volcanic eruptions, cyber attacks or nuclear crises, he added.
The Network Manager has been working in partnership with operational stakeholders to build this resilience and enhance network operations. “Following the increased climate instability of recent years we have been working with ANSPs, airports and airlines to re-enforce the operational management of adverse weather conditions, both en-route and at airports,” said Dopagne. “This has involved measures such as the implementation of procedures to facilitate planning, coordination and communication during disruptive events, as well as to proactively manage demand.”