Latest news and insights from Australia’s airports

Climate change resilience part of airport planning

Higher sea levels, biofuels and changes in aircraft technology are all issues airports need to be addressing now as they prepare to tackle climate change, according to Brisbane Airport environment and sustainability advisor Andrew Masci.

Brisbane Airport was invited to speak on the increasingly important issue of airport climate resilience at the recent Global Sustainable Aviation Summit in Geneva.

His message to other airports: don’t wait for disasters to happen when it comes to preparing for climate change.

“If you’re haven’t started your climate adaptation or your scenario analysis, you’d better get on board,’’ he says.

“The quicker you do so the quicker you can prepare. Things take time, planning takes time, and the earlier you start, the better position you’ll be in when these events occur.”

During a “high calibre” panel discussion shared with representatives from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Eurocontrol and Dutch-organisation NACO, Masci used the airport’s parallel runway and Auto Mall projects as examples of how the airport handled climate change.

He told how Brisbane has factored in the projected sea-level rise into both projects to maintain resilience in a cost-effective way by planning ahead and using clever design.

“It’s great to see how airports can build resilience and be commercial at the same time,’’ he says. “It’s not an expensive exercise to become climate resilient.”

This is a key issue for airports built on reclaimed land or low-lying areas near the sea susceptible to rising seas levels and flood surges from what is forecast to be an increasing number of storms.

Masci points to the recent flooding and closure due to Typhoon Jebi of Kansai International Airport, which is built on an artificial island, as a prime example.

He argues factoring in these sorts of issues in the planning process has left Queensland’s biggest airport well positioned compared to many of its Asia-Pacific peers.

“We’ve never had an issue here. Even with the floods of 2011 we remained open and we will always remain open,’’ he says.

“Australia hasn’t always seemed to be up with climate change, but as an industry and as an airport, we seem to be ahead of the curve.’’

Operational preparedness, including procedures and training, is also important and Masci says this is particularly the case where infrastructure is already in place.

He also notes that floods and rising sea levels are not the only issues facing airports and it is not just a question of integrating climate resilience in infrastructure but in operations too.

“One of the things that I’m pushing is that we need to understand the impacts of heat waves and extended heat events,’’ he says.

“Phoenix is a recent example where it hit above 50C for a couple of days and the Bombarider CRJ fleet had to be grounded because it had exceeded the manufacturer’s specifications.

“Everyone is cognizant of sea level rises and increased intensity of storm events, but things like heat and wind pattern changes added together is where the next level of understanding is coming from for airports.

“A single event we can manage, but what happens if you get three or four happening consecutively?

“Where we’re looking next is how we can understand the science and how we can translate it to airport growth.

“How can we grow the airport and be resilient as well?’

Other subjects discussed at the summit included the arrival of an international carbon offset scheme, plans for biofuels, working with airlines to reduce plastic waste and how the industry can help with disaster aid.

The electrification of airside equipment and, ultimately, aircraft was another big issue.

Airbus predicted at the summit that a 1000-mile, 100-seater aircraft would be in commercial production by the late 2030s.

“Electric aircraft was a big one,’’ he says. “This is coming and it’s not as though it’s the distant future — it’s 2030-2040 for electric aircraft.

“So we need to prepare the infrastructure fully to handle that.’’

Brisbane is already on the global biofuels maps thanks to an Australia-first trial with Virgin Australia into whether biofuel can be delivered via the airport’s regular fuel system.

It is one of the few airports in the world to have done this.

Biofuels remain a major long-term plank to the airline industry’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint and the International Air Transport Association wants one billion passengers to experience flights powered by biofuels by 2025.

But it will take time to build up a biofuel industry and as an interim measure ICAO is in the process of introducing the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA.

Masci said there was discussion about the impact of CORSIA and how an expansion in the use of biofuels would help reduce the cost of fossil fuels as the market widens and demand for the latter reduces.

He sees opportunity for airports to become involved with biofuels and particularly for Brisbane.

“There’s big an opportunity not only to bring an industry to Queensland but to give us a competitive edge against other airports.’’

Written by Steve Creedy

About Steve Creedy

An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.

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