Climate change a top threat to the airport community

airport flooding

Global advisory and broking firm Willis Towers Watson has uncovered the top risks affecting the airport community, revealing that climate risk is soon to become a major concern

During a recent conference held by the Willis Towers Watson Airport Risk Community (ARC) – which brought together industry figures working within the airport industry – 86 per cent of audience members asserted that they felt airports are either somewhat or very exposed to climate risk, with 48 per cent of attendees highlighting flooding as their main weather risk.

But one of the key speakers, Javier Echave – CFO of Heathrow Airport Holdings – suggested that aviation is not the problem, carbon is. He shared Heathrow’s carbon neutral strategy with the conference members, adding: “Together with ICAO and UK authorities, we must develop a roadmap for the uptake of sustainable fuels across our industry.”

The conference also identified other risks as being the failure of critical IT systems – such as those currently besmirching Boeing’s reputation – and an increased security threat from cyber and data privacy breaches, as well as the risks posed by unauthorised drones operating in and around airports.

“We established the Airport Risk Community to identify top risks affecting the airport community,” noted John Rooley, CEO of Willis Towers Watson Global Aerospace. “Our recent annual conference clearly demonstrated that airport clients were quite specific in their concerns about climate risk and its impact on airport functionality. Our commitment to tackling climate risk enables us to provide guidance on identifying and mitigating this issue.”

Obviously, airports will need to find their own ways to reduce their carbon footprint within their daily operations, but it’s not as unthinkable as many might imagine. In October this year, non-profit aviation trade association Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe) announced that 50 European airports had achieved carbon neutrality, having achieved Level 3+ Airport Carbon Accreditation, and a total of 100 European airports have committed to being carbon neutral by 2030.

The first airport to ever achieve carbon neutrality was the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in Sweden. And in the UK, Gatwick was one of the first airports to achieve carbon neutrality, while Bristol Airport, like Heathrow, has this year unveiled a carbon roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality.

And in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of the aviation industry as whole, try not to despair too much, for in 2008, aerospace engineering giant Airbus (in collaboration with Siemens) committed to the Air Transport Action Group’s target to reduce the aviation industry’s CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 (compared to 2005); and opened the E-Aircraft System House in Ottobrunn this October for testing its E-Fan X aircraft’s electric motor in preparation for its first demonstration flight in 2021.

Elsewhere, British-based commercial airline EasyJet has pledged to develop a fleet of electric planes to cover short-haul routes by 2030, while Zunum (backed by Boeing) plans to collaborate with Safran to use an electric motor for a hybrid plane.

Certainly, as far as mitigating the effects of climate change goes, the travel industry is facing some drastic changes, but through collaboration and willpower, the future need not be quite so uncertain. We certainly hope that whatever their strategy, airports act quickly to implement them.