Climate-change Impacts Upon Aviation Sub-sectors

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Thursday, 8 January 2015: 9:00 AM
129A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Terence Randall Thompson, Logistics Management Institute, McLean, VA

Handout (8.0 MB)

This paper reviews estimated quantitative impacts of climate change on aviation across major sub-sectors of the industry. It addresses changes in route management, airport operation, and passenger demand. We also discuss how international climate policy may affect aviation operations.

Route management is concerned with generating flight plans that approach optimality from the perspective of fuel consumption and time of flight, given wind conditions, convective weather patterns, and air-traffic-control constraints. Flight-planning algorithms contain a cost function reflecting these considerations that is to be minimized as much as possible. Climate-change effects that alter wind and weather conditions will thus change route planning, possibly with substantial impact on fuel consumption and flight time. Changes in anticipated conditions related to passenger safety and comfort (e.g., clear-air turbulence) will also have an effect. Additionally, “climate-optimal” trajectories that minimize radiative forcing due to both CO2 and non-CO2 aviation emissions may bring entirely new considerations into the flight-planning process. We give examples concerning both international trans-Atlantic traffic and trans-continental traffic in North America.

Airport operations are affected by probabilities of extreme events that could hamper runway/taxiway operations, interfere with worker availability, or impede travel to and from the airport by passengers. For airports near seacoasts, sea-level rise becomes a concern both from the perspective of the local average sea level, and also from the perspective of what will occur during storms of both average and extreme intensities. In addition, since airports are the source and sink nodes in the overall air-transport network, the operation of the network as a whole can be substantially affected by outages at small numbers of key airports. We give examples for several specific airports around the globe.

Passenger demand is likely to be affected by climate-related changes in seasonal temperatures and water availability, as well as probabilities of extreme events. For example, demand for travel to traditional summer-holiday destinations may shift in time or decrease in intensity if local conditions are too hot or there is a drought. Demand changes are important for both fleet and infrastructure planning. We give examples for several regions of the world.

Finally, we discuss how international climate policy may affect aviation operations. For example, climate-related fees associated with contrail generation could be avoided if there were industry investment in contrail-avoidance technology such as on-board sensors, fuel alteration, or adaptive flight planning supported by enhanced meteorological data. We give examples of the conditions under which the climate-related fees would be large enough to make a business case for such investment, including the effects of fuel price and fleet composition.