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No need for overhaul: Managing climate risk through existing systems at airports

No need for overhaul: Managing climate risk through existing systems at airports
By Tommy Hendrickson, Amanda Vargo, and Cassandra Bhat
Nov 4, 2019
Airports can reduce impacts from a changing climate by making a few minor tweaks to existing management systems.

Many airports are already feeling the strain from dramatic changes in climate, including more extreme heat and precipitation events, rising sea levels, wildfires, or a combination of these hazards. It's no surprise that climate threats can have a significant impact on airport operations: delays, damage to infrastructure, worker safety concerns, and reliability issues. While no two airports are alike—each will face a wide variety of risks depending on size, location, management practices, and other factors—they all share an increase in extreme weather that will only become more pronounced in the future.

While these risks present significant challenges, airport decision makers can mitigate them without overhauling the management and planning systems already in place. The key is to collaborate with the personnel who are familiar with each airport’s unique needs—in doing so, airport managers can chart a successful path forward without having to reinvent the wing.

In a research effort with the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), an ICF team created a guide for airport managers to identify key climate risks and opportunities for reducing them. The guide features a comprehensive Handbook and streamlined Quick Start Guide to steer airports through these challenges.

Why should changes in climate matter to non-coastal airports?

While it’s true that coastal airports face significant risks from increasing coastal storms and sea levels, airports everywhere will face new risks from changes in the environment and climate. Increasing temperatures will create new worker safety concerns and force airports to consume more energy for cooling. More frequent and intense storm events will require new approaches and infrastructure to manage stormwater.

Airports of all sizes also face risks in operations and planning. Addressing and mitigating these risks can help them reduce maintenance costs, avoid underestimating infrastructure sizing, improve reliability, and maintain continuity in operations.

In our research, we worked with airport management teams throughout the country to understand what their greatest climate risks are—and the challenges they face in addressing those risks. The resulting guidance is designed to accommodate all airport types and locations.

What systems do airports already have in place that can address climate risks?

Airports have existing management systems to address risk, uncertainty, and historical extreme weather events. These existing management systems include critical elements such as strategic and master planning, safety management, capital planning, emergency management, enterprise risk management, and asset management—but many fail to consider new climate risks.

Each of these systems has different points or steps where new climate considerations can readily be integrated. The Handbook and Quick Start Guide walk through the general steps in each management system and identify entry points and actions that managers and personnel can use to integrate climate considerations. The Handbook provides full details on overcoming barriers, as well as best practices for each integration opportunity.

Go to ICF

How can airports plan for an uncertain future?

Changes in climate should not feel like an insurmountable issue for airports. With an understanding of the relevant climate risks and opportunities for integration, airports can modify their existing robust management systems to plan for the uncertainty and impacts associated with extreme weather events now and in the future.

Are you an airport decision maker? Use this new ACRP Handbook and Quick Start Guide to begin assessing your vulnerabilities and designing an adaptation plan. For more information, view the webinar that our team hosted with ACRP to introduce the guidance and show how these climate risk mitigation approaches are being used at Denver International Airport. We are ready to help you and your airport team think through your climate risks—and leverage the systems you already have to address the changing climate head-on.

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Meet the authors
  1. Tommy Hendrickson, Consultant, Climate
  2. Amanda Vargo, Senior Analyst, Climate Resilience
  3. Cassandra Bhat, Director, Climate Resilience

    Cassie helps clients become more resilient to changing climate and weather risks with more than 10 years of experience. View bio