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Creating Water Sensitive Airports in times of Climate Change



Airports play an important role in economic growth and are essential hubs for connectivity and trade. With growth of urban areas air traffic is increasing consistently, marking the development of regions such as South-East Asia, South America and others. Following cities, most of the major airports are situated in densely populated areas, next to rivers, in deltas and alongside coasts. Many of these urbanized areas are vulnerable to water extremes which are increased by the effects of climate change. Given the important roles of airports in development as well as during disasters and hazards, planning for resiliency is critical. This is a plea for water sensitive airports, based on our decade-long involvement to create a strong and resilient Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Netherlands. A low-lying airport, in a polder, which faces water challenges on a daily basis.
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Climate hazards have only fairly recently been acknowledged as key risk factors for airports. While there is a growing body of research examining specific climate change impacts, there is only limited work that combines this literature with overall climate risk. This paper seeks to address this gap in the literature by investigating and synthesising findings from studies relating to historical airport sensitivity to climate hazards and offering insights on the overall climate risk for the global airport system. With airports increasingly needing to become more “climate-resilient” due to projected changes in global climate, airport planners and decision-makers face challenges in terms of identifying key priority areas for resilience planning and investment. The findings of the paper provide insights into these challenges by examining best-applied practices and current levels of vulnerability. The paper supports the wider inclusion of climate risks as a key factor in airports’ planning and operational processes. This will require transforming current management cultures to enhance an airport's operational ability to respond to climate events efficiently and recover quickly in the event of a disruption.
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Climate change risk is a growing concern in aviation, considering the effects of sea-level rise, storm surges, increase of extreme rainfall, changes in wind patterns, increase of average and maximum temperatures, increase in the number of extreme weather events and increase in lightning strikes. In its 2016 Environmental Report , the International Civil Aviation Organization warned that rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions will increasingly affect the ability of aircraft to take off. The likelihood of climatic extremes is expected to increase, exacerbating the impact on already affected airports as well as putting at risk those which have so far not experienced adverse effects caused by climate change. Given the significant value of the asset base at a typical medium to large scale airport which can run into the billions, combined with the complexity and interdependency of the various airport systems and supply networks, this situation is undesirable. One airport which is seizing the opportunity to build resilience to climate change into its airport planning is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Netherlands. A low-lying airport built on reclaimed land in the Polder Haarlemmermeer, which faces water challenges daily. Schiphol’s situation is extreme; Europe's most preferred airport is situated approximately 4.5 meters below sea level.
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