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A fully functioning airport is of no use if the surrounding land and cities are flooded
and the airport can’t be reached. By actively, and publicly, working to improve
resiliency planning, airports can act as ambassadors for urban areas and island
states; leading the way towards more discrete water cycles, the adoption of
innovation and a greater willingness to collaborate across private and public sectors.
For building the Climate Resilient Airport (CRA) a set of five incremental actions have
been developed. The result envisaged is that airports will enable adaptation by
maximising the potential for sustainability and innovation in both water
management and flood resilience, as well as in airport planning and governance. Vast
airport cities with their state-of-the-art urban infrastructure are also the ideal
proving ground for the latest developments in climate resilience and could set the
pace for surrounding cities. From rainwater harvesting to the use of blue-green
infrastructure, such as the green roof on the plaza at Schiphol Airport, one of the
largest in the Netherlands –the opportunities for improving water stewardship at
airports are manifold.
Climate Change Study for Changi Airport
The land reclamation areas along the coast of Singapore have an elevation close to sea
level. Changi Airport is no exception. As climate change and its effects become
increasingly apparent, it is timely to assess its impact on aviation and make the
necessary plans. Operational continuity of this critical infrastructure is of utmost
importance. That is why the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) recognises
that climate change poses potential challenges for Changi Airport and its infrastructure
assets, and that coordinated action is required to prepare Changi Airport to continue
With two-thirds of the island utilising water catchment methods, Singapore is one of
the few countries in the world to harvest urban storm water on a large scale for
consumption. The national water agency PUB calls this closing Singapore’s water loop.
Despite the current success, Singapore remains a water-stressed nation. Besides
rainwater from local catchments (1st national tap), Singapore is still importing water
from Malaysia (2nd national tap). To achieve self-sufficiency in its water resources,
Singapore is investing in NEWater (3rd national tap) and desalinated water (4th national
tap). Considering the significant surface area of Changi Airport in combination with the
relatively high yearly rainfall average of approximately 2,165mm, the retention basins
required to protect the airport during extreme weather events have the potential to
capture up to 10 million cubic meters of water on a yearly basis. Given the land use at
Changi Airport there is a risk of contamination with pollutants; nevertheless, the
potential for use of this fresh water to the benefit of the nation may be worth
Recognising the effects of climate change, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore
(CAAS) embarked on a Climate Change Study in 2016 for Changi Airport2.The
comprehensive climate change study for Changi Airport delivers a long term,
incremental and flexible Adaptation Pathway, protecting airport infrastructure from
the effects of an increase in maximum rainfall intensity, sea level rise and storm surges
through whole-of-government, district level measures. The extreme event scenarios
formulated with Changi Airport ensure that the protection of the identified critical
assets is in line with the risk appetite and vision defined by the Resilience Working
Group as carefully coordinated for the whole of Singapore.
Airports have large water footprints that can be reduced through innovative
technology and practices, providing a role model on water conservation not only for
the local community but the nation as a whole. The adaptation pathway for Changi
Airport offers the opportunity to upscale its ambitions with the progressive reduction
of water use via a multi-targeted approach across the airport. Changi Airport might be
considered as rainwater collector in addition to Singapore’s national tap and claim its
leadership in water management with a dedicated campaign to reduce water use
across the airport and educate other water users –across the globe –in how to better
use scarce water resources.
Several airports have recognized the threat posed by floods and have started work
on flood protection efforts. Based on the experience from practice in front runner
airports a set of five incremental key actions to enhance climate resiliency have been
developed (Table 1), also known as the Climate Resilient Airports (CRA) framework.
The CRA framework helps airports to develop their climate change adaptation
pathway to achieve long-term goals and ambitions. In the short- and medium-term,
first steps are needed, preferably in line with the 2018 Airport Council International
(ACI World) resolution and policy brief on ‘Airports’ Resilience and Adaptation to a
Changing Climate’, and the ISO 14090 'Adaptation to climate change - Principles,
requirements and guidelines'.
The five CRA key actions evolve from an engineered water system to more integrated
water adaptive and climate resilient actions in infrastructure planning. The result
envisaged is that airports will enable adaptation by maximising the potential for
sustainability and innovation in both water management and flood resilience, as well
as in airport planning and governance. Since major airports are the engines in
economic growth and essential hubs for connectivity, airports can accelerate making
cities resilient. Moreover, airports must understand they are in a position to be
ambassadors in making more resilient areas. And because of their potential to take a
lead, airports could play an exemplary role in solving water challenges of cities and
its implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Some airports are
seizing the opportunity to implement climate resilient airport planning. One of these
airports is Singapore Changi Airport.
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 (ICAO) warned that rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions will increasingly affect the ability of aircraft to take off. This is already
evident in certain places around the world; flights out of Phoenix, Arizona have reportedly been cancelled when daytime temperatures are projected to climb to as high as 120°F
(49°C), making it unsafe for smaller regional aircraft. Similar to high-altitude airports lift-off limits at hot-weather will reduce aircraft operations.
Following cities, most of the major airports are situated in densely populated areas, in deltas, close to rivers alongside coasts. Due to their vulnerability to disruptive weather,
over twenty major international airports suffered from flooding in the last five years, including Bangkok Don Mueang Airport which was severely affected by the 2011 Thailand
floods caused by heavy rainfall in the catchment of the Chao Phraya river. Other airports were affected by coastal flooding due to high sea water levels, such as LaGuardia Airport
in New York during hurricane Sandy. The likelihood of such calamities 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.
Besides managing the extremes of water, airports also must work with nature and
embrace the benefits of water. And because of their potential to take a lead, airports
could play an exemplary role in solving water challenges of cities and its
implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is not just about
protecting critical infrastructure and 3rd party assets from flooding. It is also about
enabling airports to become more sustainable and improve local climate and energy
management (see chapter Renewable energy powering transportation’) – something
which airports are going to have to embrace if they are to survive.
Methodology Table 1: Five incremental key actions to enhance resiliency of airports1
Planning for climate resilient airports –
keeping airports open in times of climatic extremes
N.J. Dolman* and V. Sindhamani**
* Royal HaskoningDHV, Amersfoort, the Netherlands (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
** Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO, a company of RHDHV), The Hague, the Netherlands
Results & Discussion
1. Dolman N., Sindhamani V., Vorage P. (2021) Keeping Airports Open in Times of Climatic Extremes: Planning for Climate
Resilient Airports. In: Brears R.C. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Climate Resilient Societies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
2. Dolman N., and Vorage P. (2020), ‘Preparing Singapore Changi Airport for the effects of climate change’, Journal of Airport
Management, 14:1, pages 54-66, London, UK.