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Climate Change - The Real Cost

Climate change has been creating an impact on many industries worldwide. Aviation is no exception. Hence, tackling the environmental impact is one of the key challenges for airlines and airport operators. We are all aware of the aviation activities that contribute to global warming and climate change, which mainly come from the combustion of carbon-based fossil fuels, caused by aircraft and airport-related activities.

What goes around comes around, it is the turn for the global aviation sector to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change, which can be both financially and operationally damaging. They include:

- Sea-level rise and precipitation change

- Temperature change

- Wind changes

- Changes in biodiversity

Sea-level rise and changes to precipitation

In many parts of the world, sea-level rise and heavy precipitation events are becoming more frequent, causing floods at airports as the current surface drainage capacity might be insufficient. Underground infrastructure such as electrical equipment and ground transport access may also be at risk of inundation. On Christmas Eve 2013, thousands of people remained stranded at Gatwick airport after a power outage caused by flooding had closed the airport's North Terminal. After this event, which cost money and disrupted operations, Gatwick Airport put in place adaptation and resilience measures by increasing its surface drainage capacity and relocating its electrical infrastructure on the roof of the terminals.

Changes in temperature

In some parts of the world, risks for airport infrastructure include heat damage to tarmac taxiways or runways, which would need to re-surfaced with materials that can withstand higher temperature. In some other parts of the world, higher temperature could disrupt the airport’s operations as it affects the aircraft engine thrust required and consequently impacting the runway length requirement for take-offs. For instance, an airline may be obliged to offload several passengers to reduce the MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) so the aircraft can take off on a hot summer day. To resolve this problem, many airports have moved long-haul traffic, usually operated by heavy aircraft to earlier or later in the day to enjoy lower temperature.

Wind changes

Despite many uncertainties regarding projections, wind directions are expected to shift as the jet stream moves poleward and upwards. The projected strengthening of the North Atlantic jet stream might lead to a rise in the frequency and strength of clear-air turbulence and increasing westbound transatlantic flight times. Furthermore, many airports are experiencing crosswinds due to the prevailing direction changes. To tackle this, airport operators can choose to build a crosswind runway, but finance would need to be considered. As for transatlantic routes, trajectories may need to be changed to optimise (eastbound) and reduce (westbound) the impacts of a stronger jet stream.

Changes in biodiversity

Climate change can cause changes to both local biodiversity and wildlife migration patterns, increasing wildlife hazards around the airports and could impact aircraft operations and increase the potential for bird strikes. Adaptation measure may include modifying local habitat to discourage wildlife from approaching the airport or to scare wildlife away.

To sum up, the aviation sector is making progress to address the impacts of climate change. Risks not only need to be identified and addressed at the level of individual organisations, but rather the global sector needs to work together to learn from each other, and build partnerships for action.

Sustainability is an important aspect for the aviation sector, given that adaptation and resilience building usually require expertise and financial resources. Recently, Brookfield Aviation has provided support to aviation stakeholders with regards to environment concerns, which include a number of sustainability measures and initiatives.


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