Insights: While There’s Still Time: How Airports Can Adapt for a Changing Climate


At their core, airports are not solely about airplanes, vehicles, or terminals, they are people-centered. Airports are the living and breathing places that connect us to our loved ones far away, to clients coast-to-coast, and to our increasingly globalized world. For this reason, resilience and the operational continuity of this critical part of our transportation network matter. The year 2020 was the hottest on record globally, and airports in the United States have already begun to experience climate-related impacts. The severe winter storm in Houston, TX in February 2021 canceled thousands of flights, stranded passengers, and caused blackouts across the city and its airports. In September 2021, Hurricane Ida flooded parts of the New York City region—areas mostly unaccustomed to storms of this kind. Local airports were forced to cancel flights as ground transportation was affected and airport facilities were filled with floodwater. A single weather shock event has a ripple effect within the airport network causing cancellations, and it impacts the entire transportation system- keeping people from the places, and the people they need to reach the most. As these examples demonstrate, airports cannot afford to wait to prepare for these climate-related events. The time to plan is now, will your airport be prepared? climate threats infographic


Resilience is the over-arching goal of adaptation planning utilized to build new processes and adaptive capacities to manage change. For example, a sustainable airport that starts with mitigating its carbon footprint and environmental impacts can then create a strategy for adapting to a changing climate. Such an airport would be called “resilient” as it has a plan to continue operating during severe weather events, climate disasters, or other emergencies.


Airports within the United States, from small general aviation airports to large, regional hubs, are public assets critical to their local, regional, and national economies. Because of this, they must plan for the best interests of the public by ensuring smooth and continued operations and investment in strategies that promote greater resiliency. The best place to start is working to understand the specific risks and hazards your airport will face. C&S prides itself on its mastery of resilience best practices and innovative approaches in working with our clients to understand these climate risks, plan for adaptations, and to prioritize safety, health, and continuity of operations.

dry soil and growing plantIS YOUR AIRPORT READY TO TAKE THE HEAT?

Extreme temperatures, whether very hot or very cold, will have implications for aircraft and airports planning for climate change. Weather affects almost every aspect of an airport and warmer weather will mean slower climbs for aircraft with potential implications for air traffic control (ATC). High temperatures can also dictate the weight an aircraft can have onboard or the runway length needed for takeoff, leading to weight restrictions. High heat can also damage aircraft components or place undue stress on aircraft cooling systems. Heat also has a human cost. The health and safety of ground crews and airside personnel are of increasing concern as climate change causes hotter temperatures. Airport workers, contractors, and other employees on the airfield are especially susceptible to high temperatures, damage from UV rays, and OSHA heat index limits. Is your airport ready to take the heat?


The Paris Climate Accord estimates that a two-degree Celsius increase in global temperature will lead to irreversible damage to coastal airports, putting many runways and facilities underwater or at great risk from extreme weather, flooding, and storm surges. Concerns with water for airports are on both ends of the spectrum— from monsoons and flooding to drought-induced water scarcity. Droughts also cause a significant risk for airport operations due to pavement damage as well as to changes in operational schedules as travel demand shifts during emergencies. Are you prepared to keep your airport above water?


Microgrids are an excellent tool for making airports into an energy island that is more resilient and efficient during emergency operations. Microgrids can also be utilized solely as a backup system to provide redundancy in shock events. Generally, it is best practice for airports to look at energy from an efficiency standpoint and try to do more with less, using as little energy as possible. Airports cannot operate without energy and a loss of power can create catastrophic conditions. This was the case in 2017 for the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), when an electrical fire at the power utility knocked out not only the primary power source at ATL, but also its backup system. The airport shut down operations stranding an estimated 30,000 passengers. Does your airport have the energy, to plan for energy?

Dust storm (Haboob) with dramatic clouds and sky at sunset in the Arizona desert.RESILIENCE GUIDANCE AND FUNDING ARE COMING-WILL YOU BE READY?

There is an often-used saying in airport planning and operations: “If you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.” The climate challenges that airports face will largely depend on the specific geographic location, construction, operational procedures, and other attributes that make each airport unique. The challenge is large, but help is coming. In October 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the DOT Climate Action Plan for Resilience which will aim to incorporate resilience into DOT grant and loan programs in the near future and improve federal research on resilience in the future. In November 2021, the FAA released its 2021 Aviation Climate Action Plan to provide policy frameworks and to begin the development of industry-wide goals for managing climate change. The recently announced Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation and FAA Airport Climate Challenge will both provide much-needed funding opportunities for increased airport resilience.

Headshot of Mia Held

Mia Held

It is critical that airports understand climate risks and begin planning now to prevent the shutdown or interruption of service and operations. As an added bonus, airports and air carriers who take on the challenge of planning for climate adaptation and resilience are considered less risky by insurers, creditors, and other key stakeholders. In prioritizing resilience, your airport can help keep businesses moving, families connected, and to ensure that even those we love who are a world apart, are always just a flight away.

For more information on airport resilience best practices, contact Mia Held at (215) 399-4699 or



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