Climate change and capacity constraints will significantly impact European airports by 2030, reports Eurocontrol study

Climate change and capacity constraints will significantly impact European airports by 2030, reports Eurocontrol study | Eurocontrol
Tue 9 Dec 2008 – According to a new Eurocontrol study, Challenges of Growth, even taking the current economic downturn into account, demand for flights in Europe will rise from 10 million today to 20.4 million in 2030, leading to one in two flights at risk of delay or cancellation at highly congested airports. In addition, bouts of extreme weather and other effects of climate change will bring further disruption to already saturated airports, together with changes to travel and route patterns.
Although many airports are working to increase capacity, the report predicts there will be around 2.3 million flights a year – or more than 6,300 flights a day – unaccommodated by 2030, with around 20 of the largest airports operating at full capacity for more than eight hours a day.
“Despite the economic downturn and a prospect of slower growth in the future – because of maturing European markets and higher fuel-related costs – demand in the longer term is still set to rise substantially,” commented David Marsh, Manager of Forecasting and Statistics at Eurocontrol. “As a result, airports are going to run out of space, and with half of each day’s flights going through one of the saturated airports, a small delay at one airport could rapidly escalate to infect the whole European air network.”
The report says the problems could get even worse because weather-related delays could be more common as bouts of extreme weather will occur more frequently. Increases in the occurrence of significant convection areas, winter storms, ice, frost, moderate and severe turbulence, windshear, fog and runway contamination may cause considerable delays to aircraft operations. In addition, rising sea levels, rising temperatures and declining water resources will all directly affect demand for air transport, and at the same time may impair the air traffic network infrastructure. A significant number of airports around Europe, points out the report, are located on coastlines or tidal river floodplains.
As higher temperatures become the norm across Europe, holiday patterns are likely to change. Over northern and eastern Europe, most of this warming will occur in the winter months, whereas across the Mediterranean and central and western Europe, the greatest temperature increases are projected for the summer. Within 10-20 years, parts of the Mediterranean are forecast to be so hot during mid-summer that this could cause a decline in the tourism economy during July and August.
While airlines will be able to change their routes to cope with this, airports, which require substantial infrastructure, are not so flexible. For example, with higher summer extreme temperatures, aircraft payload lift is likely to be affected, necessitating longer runways and changes to take-off trajectories.
“Thanks to climate change, demand may be elsewhere than today,” notes Marsh. “We need to start thinking of an agile air transport network, one that brings together people and technology so that it can react effectively both as the day’s events unfold and as demand changes by the year. It should be unencumbered by the twentieth-century concerns of national borders, with a real Single European Sky (SES), an agile pan-European system, if we are to cope with the challenges of the future.”
There are five main challenges facing the European air transport system, say the report’s authors:
·         Lack of airport capacity;
·         Environmental sustainability;
·         Efficient management of a highly-contested air traffic network;
·         Delivering and exploiting the benefits of SES, especially SESAR; and
·         The impact of climate change on demand and operations.
The report forecasts that in 2030 there will be between 1.7 and 2.2 times the number of flights in Europe seen in 2007, with 1.8 the most likely. Within this growth there will be significant variations, for example strong growth in Eastern Europe in percentage terms and limited growth in domestic traffic for many of the currently busier States. Stronger growth is seen in traffic to and from Europe (3.8% to 5.8% per year), with Russia, India and China contributing significantly to this. But the strongest growth is likely to be in overflights, which are growing at 5.0% to 7.1% per year, representing between 18,000 to 30,000 additional flights a day by 2030, as connections are increasingly made between, for example, the Middle East and North America.
The expansion of the European Union has proven to be a significant source of traffic growth in the past, because joining the EU brings not just an open aviation market but also free trade and free movement of workers and businesses. The present 27 EU States is expected to reach 34 members by 2030.
Eurocontrol believes that the introduction of aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, will increase average ticket prices by around 0.5% a year, more on long-haul and less on short-haul, and will have the effect of reducing demand in 2030 by some 0.9 to 1.3 million departures, the latter being the most likely.
The report says that Air Traffic Management is expected to provide, at best, a 10% reduction in aviation’s CO2 emissions per flight. “Even with greater improvements from other sources such as cleaner aircraft technologies, aviation growth will continue to be a significant environmental challenge,” say its authors.
They foresee trade-offs between conflicting environmental impacts. For example, a noise mitigation procedure may route aircraft away from noise sensitive areas but require longer track length, hence greater fuel use and more greenhouse gas emissions. Research into the trade-offs between fuel efficiency and other climate-related factors (such as contrails and cirrus cloud formation) suggests that cruising levels and speeds could be altered for environmental reasons, with potential changes to the vertical and lateral distribution of flights. “The impact of this on en-route capacity has not been investigated in detail, though the effect is unlikely to be trivial,” they believe.
The report concludes by examining five mitigation methods that could reduce the impact of the challenges described. Some, they concede, have limited benefits such as schedule smoothing, accelerated investment in additional high-speed train infrastructure and accelerated shift to larger aircraft to reduce frequencies. Use of alternative secondary and regional airports could reduce unaccommodated demand by 25-40%, but this is also limited due to capacity constraints elsewhere. Investment to bring all airports to be ‘best-in-class’ standard, together with SESAR improvements, could bring 40% gains. Best results, it says, would come from a mix of methods that take into account different airline business models and local demand.
The study calculates that shifting short-haul flights to high-speed trains (HST) by extending the HST network from the current 98 city-pairs to over 300 city-pairs would reduce demand by between 300,000 and 500,000 flights. Therefore, it takes three times the connections to double the reduction. Given the cost of building HST lines, it says, this is unlikely to be justifiable in its own right as a means to reduce demand.



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