Elevated terminals and light cargo: The airport is adapting to climate change

As climate change increases the likelihood of extreme heat and strong storms, airlines and airports have begun to prepare for a future where extreme weather conditions are disrupting flight schedules more frequently.

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This month, for example, caused storms to cancel more than 300 flights at O’Hare airports in Chicago and Fort Worth in Texas. In July, eight flights to Denver were canceled and another 300 were delayed due to smoke from forest fires in the northwestern United States. In addition, cases of extreme heat affected summer takeoffs in Las Vegas and Colorado.

These disruptions are in line with the prevailing trend: In the last two decades, there has been an increase in the number of cancellations and delays of flights in the US and Europe due to weather-related problems, according to data collected by regulators. These will become more frequent or more powerful as the earth warms.

Operational headache

According to a survey conducted in 2019 by the International Organization for Civil Aviation belonging to the UN among member countries, 75% of participants said that the aviation industry is already experiencing some impact from climate change.

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Damage to Henry’s in the United States


“The question of how we can continue to maintain our flight schedules is of great concern to us, especially in light of our planned future growth,” said David Kensick, director of global operations at United Airlines. Do a better job of dealing with them. “

Airlines are responsible for 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, but given the other substances emitted from the aircraft, there are studies that claim that their impact on the climate is more significant.

The potential effects of climate change on industry are far-reaching. In the short term, extreme weather conditions create an operational headache. Forced changes in flight paths and cancellations add to the costs of an industry that lost billions of dollars during the plague. In the longer term, airlines believe that changes in wind directions will lead to changes in flight paths and fuel consumption. For example, a flight from Europe to the United States will probably take longer due to the change in airflow over the North Atlantic. .

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According to data collected by Eurocontrol, the number of delays attributed to bad weather conditions in European airspace increased from 3.5 million in 2003 to a peak of 6.5 million in 2019. This is despite the fact that part of the increase can also be attributed to the growth recorded in the industry. Of the delays, the rate of those related to the weather rose in that period from 23% to 27%. Similarly, the rate of U.S. flights canceled due to the weather rose from about 35 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2019, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Mark Searle, the global head of safety at the International Air Transport Organization (IATA), said airlines have adapted over the years to climate change. “There is a developing situation here, but not one that requires us to jump off a cliff,” he explained. “We are not doing badly at all.”

For airlines, the solution lies in technology. American Airlines and United Airlines have improved their capabilities to predict the likelihood of lightning storms, allowing ground crews to prepare the runways, without risk.

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American Airlines Airlines Boeing 737 Max American Airlines Airlines Boeing 737 Max

American Airlines planes

(Photo: American Airlines)

In addition, at some airports, United has installed autonomous parking systems that allow aircraft to travel to the terminal even when storms prevent workers from directing them to the landing gate.

Extreme weather conditions also require the recruitment of more workers. Airlines are required to pay overtime to airport employees, and customer service centers face congestion on the part of passengers trying to rebook flights. Thus, airlines will have to decide whether to pay overtime, add shifts or allow passengers to bear the consequences. “In any case, there will be additional costs here if the airlines decide to deal with the situation,” said John Jagger, an analyst at airline company Serium.

While passengers tend to place most of the blame on airlines, laws in the U.S., UK and EU do not require airlines to compensate passengers for problems caused by weather hazards. “Mother Earth gives airlines a certain exemption from punishment,” Jagger concluded.

Less swing to the wings

The disruptions are caused not only by storms but also by extreme heat. Planes have a hard time taking off when temperatures are high because the hot air is less compressed, so the wings produce less momentum. The higher the temperature, the easier the aircraft must be to take off, especially at airports with short runways or those built at high altitudes.

According to an article by atmospheric scientist Williams, the cargo weight of an Airbus A320 taking off from the Greek island of Chios has been reduced by 130 kg a year for the past 30 years – about the average weight of one passenger and his cargo.

IATA is now in discussions with companies about adopting new climate warming commitments later this year. The industry’s current targets, set in 2009, include halving emissions from 2005 to 2050 and achieving neutral growth in carbon emissions after 2020.

But many parts of the industry, especially in the U.S. and Europe, believe much stricter targets are needed, including a commitment to zero emissions. “, Earlier this year.

According to Williams, the aviation industry’s approach to climate change is beginning to change. “Historically, there have been a lot of skeptics in the aviation industry about climate change, but I notice the change,” he concluded. “The industry today is characterized by much more sincerity.”

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