Climate change is accelerating sea level rise and threatening coastal infrastructure, especially that of airports. To mitigate against the risks of sea level rise and consequential flooding, many airports across the country and internationally have had to invest in protective countermeasures.
Historically, airports were created along the waterfront. Why is that?
Ray Scheinfeld, planning and environmental services manager for Philadelphia’s division of aviation explained, “Airports needed large tracts of land convenient to cities, but far enough away from homes and tall buildings, and that meant building on coastal wetlands.”
Moreover, favorable winds were often sought after, and these could be found on the coast. Being far from inland residential neighborhoods, these coastal locations posed fewer obstacles for takeoff and landing. Similarly, situating airports at the coast, far from housing, meant fewer complaints of noise pollution.
But building airports on low-lying coastal regions means higher risks of damage from rising sea levels, high tides and flooding from either storm surges or extreme rainfall. Back in 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cited that more than a dozen of the nation’s 50 largest airports have low-lying infrastructure at risk of sea level rise and storm surge flooding.
Climate Central documented that the U.S. airports most vulnerable to sea level rise include San Francisco International (SFO), Oakland International (OAK), Honolulu International (HNL), New Orleans Louis Armstrong International (MSY), Tampa International (TPA), Miami International (MIA), Ft. Lauderdale International (FLL), Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Newark Liberty International (EWR), LaGuardia (LGA), Philadelphia International (PHL) and John F. Kennedy International (JFK). These 12 airports have runways within 12 feet of current sea levels.
To guard against sea level rise and flooding risks, both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have strongly urged immediate construction of higher runways, protective sea walls, better drainage systems and even the establishment of early warning systems for flooding. Last week, SFO officials decided to move forward with a plan to build a sea wall around the airport at the cost of $587 million.
Interestingly, rising waters are viewed by some as a reckoning for the aviation industry, becausee air travel, as the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) reported, is responsible for more than 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. That value is expected to climb as air travel continues to run unabated.
Image via Bill Abbott