Extreme weather is forcing redesign of world’s busiest airports
Airports around the world are relocating sensitive electrical equipment to rooftops to protect it from flooding, reinforcing runways to handle extreme temperature swings and revving up air conditioning as climate change complicates operations.
While the aviation industry has promised to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, harsher weather conditions are already forcing a rethink of critical infrastructure in airports and airfields across the world. The rise in sea level alone means airports may have to spend $57 billion to maintain current risk levels by the end of the century, according to a Climate Risk Management report published in 2021 by Newcastle University and the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the U.K.
Runways contain different mixtures of asphalt depending on a region’s climate. A surface in Dubai, for example, is made up of a different composition to withstand higher temperatures than one in the U.K., which is now sweating under the heat for longer periods.
Higher temperatures even affect the laws of physics underpinning flying itself. Warm weather means the air is less dense, creating reduced lift for the wings and power for the engines. That, in turn, can require longer runways because planes need longer take-off rolls, or it forces airlines to reduce seating on an aircraft in order to cut back on weight, which deprives them of revenue.
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