skip to content | Accessibility Information

Impacts of Climate on Aviation

The scientific community has reported unequivocally that the earth is warming; the global mean temperature has increased by 0.76OC over the last 150 years (IPCC, 2007). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their fourth and most recent assessment of global climate change in 2007, concluded that the cause of this warming is rising greenhouse gas concentrations as a result of human activities, and warming will continue with a best estimate of 2.8OC by the end of the current century (IPCC A1B scenario).

It is difficult to generalise about the climate changes that this rise in greenhouse gases will produce because of the current limitations in climate modelling and the significant regional variations in climate change that are projected. However, the principle changes that are expected to occur include sea-level rise, temperature increases, precipitation changes, and increases in extreme weather and storms.


Adapted from IPCC, 2007 Level of Uncertainty Probability of Occurrence
Sea-level rise Virtually certain ≥99%
Temperature changes
Decreases in very cold days Virtually certain ≥99%
Increases in Arctic temperatures Virtually certain ≥99%
Later onset of seasonal freeze, earlier onset of seasonal thaw Virtually certain ≥99%
Increases in very hot days and heat waves Very likely ≥90%
Precipitation changes
Increases in intense precipitation events Very likely ≥90%
Increases in drought conditions for some regions Likely ≥66%
Changes in seasonal precipitation and flooding patterns Likely ≥66%
Increases in hurricane intensity Likely ≥66%
Increased intensity of cold-season storms, with increases in winds, waves and storm surges Likely ≥66%


Aviation in general, and airports, like other transport operations and infrastructure, is vulnerable to many of these projected climate changes. Some specific examples of how climate changes may impact on aviation and airports include:


  • Global sea-levels are projected to rise by between 0.2 and 0.5 metres by 2100 (medium emissions scenario in IPCC, 2007). This, especially when combined with an increase in storminess, would result in more frequent flooding and storm surges causing coastal erosion and land subsidence. It has been reported that 34 airports in Europe alone are at risk from sea-level rise (Eurocontrol, 2010).
  • Rising temperatures reduce aircraft lift, thereby requiring longer take off runs, which could result in the need for longer runways at some airports, or changes in aircraft type or maximum pay load, and potentially airspace changes and local community impacts.
  • Precipitation changes will impact on airport operations and design requirements. A number of airports have already reported incidences of extreme rainfall and the operational disruptions that this has caused (e.g. Don Muang Airport, Bangkok in October 2011). Investment in drainage infrastructure will be required if operational disruptions are to be avoided.


These are just a few of the many examples that CATE has identified from its work in this area. Airports that are poorly prepared can expect infrastructure failures, operational disruptions and passenger discomfort, leading to high recovery costs and reputational harm.


There has only been a limited amount of research to date on how projected climate changes will affect aviation and airports. This topic is an emerging one and further research is required to explore the nature of climate change impacts on aviation, and how the industry can plan for these changes. It is important to consider this in the context of how the industry operates and its short term commercial focus.


Pure and applied research studies

CATE staff have been actively involved in research and consultancy in key areas associated with climate changes and aviation. Projects have included:

  •  Eurocontrol study, with the Met Office Hadley Centre, investigating  climate changes in relation to (1) changes to tourist activities in Greece, (2) European airports and sea-level rise and (3) potential changes in severe convection in Maastricht upper area airspace.


  • Working with the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and the Met Office Hadley Centre, investigating the potential impacts of climate change on the responsibilities and activities of NATS (air navigation service provide) in the UK.


  • Assisting the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) in preparing a risk assessment and adaptation plan for East Midlands Airport and Manchester Airport, in accordance with statutory guidance provided by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.