Rising Sea Levels, Storm Surges Threaten Airport Runways
Rising sea levels and extreme weather events attributed to global climate change will increase the flood risk to airports and other transportation infrastructure in coastal regions of the U.S., according to the draft report of a government advisory committee. The trend over time will reduce the reliability and capacity of the transportation system, the study warns.
The draft report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC), released this month, identifies 13 large airports with at least one runway at an elevation within 12 feet of current sea level. Climate experts expect global sea levels to rise by another one to four feet this century. Best- and worst-case scenarios range from eight inches to 6.6 feet of sea level rise by 2100, according to the report.
Citing data published by AirNav, an aeronautical information provider, the transportation chapter of the report identifies the following airports with vulnerable runways: Oakland and San Francisco International airports in California; Honolulu International in Hawaii; Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana; Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale international airports in Florida; Isla Grande Airport, Puerto Rico; Washington Reagan National Airport in Virginia; Philadelphia International Airport in Pennsylvania; Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; and La Guardia and JFK International airports in New York.
The study cites the recent example of Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted operations at major airports in the Northeast U.S., as an indicator of what future storms and higher sea levels could bring. The website FlightStats.com reported that airlines canceled 20,254 flights originating and arriving in North America between October 27 and November 1 because of the hurricane and its aftermath; nearly half of the cancellations occurred at JFK, La Guardia and Newark Liberty airports. La Guardia shut down for three days due to flooding. Although scientists cannot tie Sandy directly to climate change, “there is a strong circumstantial case to be made that increased frequency of extreme events (as defined by climate scientists) will produce increased traffic and aviation delays,” the NCADAC study authors wrote.
The draft study notes that even routine weather delays “are compounded by inadequacies” in the current ATC system, and adds that the FAA’s ambitious NextGen ATC modernization effort should help reduce weather-related delays. After review by the public and the National Academies of Science, the NCADAC will submit its study to the government for incorporation in the Third National Climate Assessment.