EUROCONTROL study on climate change risks for European aviation

Climate change set to increasingly disrupt aviation on the ground and in the air
Climate Change Report 2021 cover
EUROCONTROL Climate Change Study 2021

Climate change poses significant and increasing risks to aviation in the years ahead, a new report carried out by Egis and the UK Met Office on behalf of EUROCONTROL concludes.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Higher temperatures are associated with increasingly unpredictable or severe weather events, whilst the melting of land ice and the warming of the oceans threatens coastlines around the world due to sea level rise. These impacts pose threats to infrastructure, transport, supply chains, communities and the resilience of the global economy. More positively, although it may seem counterintuitive, certain regions may see a more favourable climate for certain activities, although this would not balance out the damage that climate change is likely to inflict.

Eamonn Brennan, Director General EUROCONTROL

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Structure

This study consists of five work packages, which explore the risks posed by climate change to the European aviation sector. The findings of each are summarised in this report, whereas the technical detail can be found in the corresponding annexes:

  • Annex 1 – An overview of short-term weather impacts on European aviation: assesses the link between disruptive weather and delays over the past ten years and next five years as a basis for the wider study;

  • Annex 2 – Impact of changes in storm patterns and intensity on flight operations: considers the potential impact of changes in the intensity and frequency of storms on flight operations up to 2050;

  • Annex 3 – Impact of sea level rise on European airport operations: investigates the progression in flooding risk expected for European coastal airports up to 2090 due to sea level rise and storm surge;
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  • Annex 4 – Impact of climate change on tourism: assesses projected changes in the attractiveness of the climate at European tourism destinations during summer and shoulder months and examines how intra-European traffic could be impacted by 2050;

  • Annex 5 – Impact of changes in wind patterns on flight operations: investigates how flights could be affected by changing wind patterns by 2050.

Files

EUROCONTROL study on climate change risks for European aviation - Summary report
EUROCONTROL study on climate change risks for European aviation - Key findings