This year alone, Taiwan’s main gateway, Taoyuan International Airport saw flash flooding disrupt 219 flights after ground operations were suspended. Similarly, Beijing Capital International Airport saw 237 flights cancelled in a single day, due to torrential rain. This was not the first time that either airport had suffered disruption thanks to climate change and it will probably not be the last. So how should airports respond?

It’s all about adaptation

Climate change is no longer just about reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s now about helping airports to manage the associated risks while ensuring that they remain operational. The key to achieving both successfully is in making sure that airports adapt effectively.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s 2016 environmental report warned that airports will need to assess existing and new infrastructure in order to reduce future risk, minimise lifecycle costs and ultimately secure the reliability and regularity of the aviation sector for future years.

Taking a proactive approach

Each and every airport project that we work on at NACO involves an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In the past, these assessments have typically focused on how the project will impact on its environment. These days however, it’s the other way around.

The content of our EIAs is now beginning to focus more on the impact of the environment on the project. That means asking, for example, how an increase in rainfall intensity might impact airport drainage systems, and how rising sea levels could increase the risk of flooding on the airstrip. Conducting accurate and in-depth assessments highlight the specific issues airports may face – or will face in the future – and directs our attention towards the specific actions that can be taken to help adapt to climate change.

A case in point

For one international airport, this approach is already a reality. We recently embarked on a project to help this particular airport adopt a resilient approach to climate change.

Firstly, we conducted a benchmark study which examined how the airport compared with its international counterparts in terms of dealing with the climate change risks. It concluded that few airports are actually taking action at this point, but are indeed at risk.

Alongside this study, we looked at the critical infrastructure at the airport and determined the parameters required to safeguard it. We conducted a number of workshops to identify the most critical assets, before analysing the flood risk to each of those assets based on climate parameters. In other cases, it could be that the assets face an operational risk due to an increase in heat stress, low level wind shear or reduced visibility – all factors that could significantly impair or disable the airport’s operations.

In combination with the outcomes of the benchmarking study, we are now able to define a number of options for a course of action at the airport – whether that’s installing floodgates around certain critical infrastructure on the airfield, or taking a more holistic approach to protecting the airport and the wider region by upgrading flood defence walls at the nearby shoreline.

Adopting a regional approach

The latter option – whilst inevitably more expensive – is a more extensive solution for the airport and surrounding area. And it is one area in which our company has particularly strong experience.

For example, we have worked with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to future proof the regional drainage solution which not only protects the airport but also benefits the wider geographic area when it comes to rainfall. As the airport sits below sea level, this was a major consideration in protecting the airport and its critical assets in the face of rising sea levels and increasing rainfall intensities.

And of course, multiple stakeholders are involved in such a project – not only so that we have buy-in on the project, but also because the responsibility is often shared financially amongst different stakeholders.

But the value that this regional approach brings is huge in comparison to protecting individual assets at the airport. Of course this depends very much on each airport’s requirements and different climate change parameters which is why the initial assessment is so important.

Putting in place a practical roadmap

When it comes to climate change, there’s often a lot of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ talk about theories that could potentially work in the future.

But our work in this area provides a practical roadmap that helps airports improve their resilience against climate change. Our specialism in the airport industry combined with the multidisciplinary expertise of our colleagues in Royal HaskoningDHV means that we can offer a tailored roadmap to resilience based on the individual needs of the airport.

I will be speaking at the ACI Europe Environmental Strategy Committee (October 20) in Rome where I will be highlighting the experiences we have made working with clients in this area. I look forward to meeting members of ACI Europe there!