Officials from Eurocontrol predict that within five years climate adaptation could rival emissions in importance for the aviation industry.
Eurocontrol has completed work on a scoping study that begins to examine how climate change, including rising temperatures, could affect the aviation industry's ability to manage demand and increasing traffic.
Alan Melrose of Eurocontrol describes the effects of climate adaptation as a "sleeping tiger" in terms of risk to the aviation business.
Citing an example using the uncharacteristically high temperatures in France during the European heat wave in the summer of 2003, Melrose says continuing rising temperatures could drive tourist passenger demand elsewhere. Eventually that condition could become a factor in decisions made on where to expand system capacity, including runways. "Maybe everyone goes the Balkans in the summer instead of the Mediterranean," he says.
Other disruptions to the business stemming from climate change include sea level changes, which would result in airport operators finding ways to protect facilities against flooding, explains Melrose, speaking during the ICAO Colloquium on Aviation and Climate Change.
Explaining current capacity in the air traffic management system is so tight, Melrose says a slight disruption can result in significant knock-on effects, as recently shown by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Melrose believes additional research is necessary to determine how the industry should respond to climate change, but not at the expense of taking resources away from other areas.
The industry may not need to alter the way it manages capacity and technology drastically to deal with climate change issues, says Melrose. "We just don't know. We need to find out."
Eurocontrol's scoping study on the issue was peer reviewed and should be available in the coming weeks, says Melrose, who stresses the work did not focus on specific causes of climate change.