The report assesses how existing weather trends have impacted aviation in recent years, factoring in climate change impacts that are emerging faster than expected. It forecasts growing disruption both on the ground and in the air: airports and their surrounding transport infrastructure face a rising risk of flash flooding and rising sea levels, while flight operations are set to be increasingly delayed by violent storms that will increase delays, raise fuel burn and lead to higher emissions.
From a network point of view, the report provides scientific confirmation of the operational impacts due to weather that the EUROCONTROL Network Manager and partners are already experiencing and working closely to mitigate, and gives an insight into what can be expected in the future. Its main findings highlight how all aviation actors need to build climate resilience into their operations:
- Extreme sudden rainfall and rising sea levels are assessed to pose a growing risk to Europe’s airports. Two-thirds of coastal or low-lying airports are expected to be at increased risk of flooding in the event of a storm surge, with potentially large secondary impacts on regional economies, including the loss of ground transport links. While 91% of these airports are smaller and less network-critical, major airports should also intensify their contingency planning to include climate change risk assessments – even a 1-day closure triggered by flash floods could cost between €3 million (medium-sized airports) and €18 million (major airport hubs) in terms of diverted and cancelled flights and clean-up measures.
- Major storms, which cost aviation an estimated €2.2 billion in 2019 in terms of en-route delays, are expected to increase in intensity. Bad weather forced airlines to fly 1 million extra km in 2019, burning 6,000+ tonnes of extra fuel and producing 19,000 extra tonnes of CO2. Extreme weather is predicted to drive these numbers up, with horizontal flight inefficiency on days when storms account for over 50% of air traffic flow management delays expected to worsen by 0.5% by 2050. That will add an additional 5,700 tonnes CO2 per year, increasing every 1,000 nautical mile flight by roughly 40 nautical miles on bad weather days, and further driving up the cost to airlines, passengers and their carbon footprint.
- Future flight operations will also be modified by climate change, with jet streams reducing many transatlantic flight durations both eastbound and westbound. This will have positive effects on flight times, fuel burn and emissions, and could yield possible savings of 55,000 tonnes of aviation fuel per year by 2050, corresponding to roughly 175,000 tonnes of CO2. Route demand and traffic flows are also expected to shift as tourism adjusts to changing temperatures.
The study comes as an update to Annex 2 (Adapting aviation to a changing climate) of 2018’s Challenges of Growth report.