Reducing disruption with climate resilience: Extreme weather

by | Sep 18, 2023 | Airlines, Airports, Travel Tech

Reducing disruption with climate resilience: Extreme weather


SITA recently published an article on leveraging technology for climate resilience. It highlighted that disruption caused by weather conditions account for 75 per cent of air traffic delays, “costing airlines billions of dollars each year in extra fuel, maintenance, crew, and compensation expenses.”

Patrick Edmond, Managing Director, Altair Advisory told Aviation News:

“Airlines have always had to deal with disruption, often caused by extreme weather. The reality of climate change is that this kind of disruption will become more frequent – whether it’s due to extreme high or low temperatures, wind, rain, or snow – and increasingly airlines will have to treat this as ‘business as usual’ instead of something exceptional.”

Extreme weather events are on the rise and, although they are just one of the many symptoms of climate change, they form the focus of this article. Confronted with the challenges of a hostile climate, the industry’s response comes in two broad parts:

The first, a push towards sustainable aviation. The industry must resolve its negative contribution to climate change; this requires extensive investment and commitment, willingness to embrace new technologies, and experimentation with alternative energy sources.

The second, which is explored here, is climate resilience: the need to adapt to the environmental consequences of climate change. This will enable the industry to navigate the impact of complex weather conditions whilst minimising disruption for passengers.


The impact of extreme weather on the industry

An informal survey by the World Aviation Festival had a look at the impact of extreme weather events on travel experiences and the results can be seen below.



Although this was just a small sample to canvas opinion on the topic, wider research shows the number of extreme weather events has grown “substantially” over the past 10-15 years and this has very tangible consequences for travel. As these events become more frequent and intense with the rising global temperature, this translates to delays, cancellations, and more disruption to passengers.

EUROCONTROL’s article, ‘Understanding the impact of climate change on aviation’ highlighted several of the ways weather events impacted the industry, ranging from damaged communications equipment, flooded control towers, and even melted runways when, in 2012, high temperatures melted the tarmac at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, trapping a plane as its wheel became stuck.

In addition to disrupting operations, the necessary counter actions themselves can result in further sustainability setbacks.

Research by Professor Paul Williams found that flight paths may become more convoluted to avoid stronger and more frequent patches of turbulence, lengthening some journey times and increasing the overall consumption of jet fuel. Similarly, the EUROCONTROL article reports that in 2019, over 1 million km were flown as a result of avoiding a major storm. This corresponds to over 6,000t of extra fuel consumed, or over 19,000t of CO2 produced.


Climate resilience

While the industry strives to meet sustainability targets, it must also build climate resilience to combat the challenges posed by climate change.

ICAO describes aviation climate resilience as:

“The ability for the aviation system operations and infrastructure to be able to withstand and recover from external perturbation resulting from the impacts of climate change. Therefore, anticipation of and adaptation to these impacts are vital to ensure a reduction in the magnitude of consequences of climate change to the whole aviation system.”

Technology plays a pivotal role in climate resilience. Innovative solutions help to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from adversities caused by climate change. These include but are not limited to, advanced air traffic management (ATM) systems, remote sensing and satellite technologies, and advanced weather forecasting systems. A couple of examples of technologies employed to address the surge in extreme weather occurrences include:

American Airlines’ HEAT tool which “dynamically moves flight schedules around to ensure that customers, crew, and aircraft keep moving when weather threatens to disrupt the schedule.” HEAT optimises data about weather, customer connections, gate availability, volume of passengers on each flight, and any air traffic control or crew constraints. American’s algorithm has so far prevented nearly 1,000 flight cancellations across their network.

SITA eWAS and SITA Mission Watch. This aggregates multiple weather feeds, ensuring accuracy and reliability in weather forecasts. These solutions provide pilots and dispatchers with high-resolution, real-time, 4D weather forecasts, enabling them to visualize flight plans over weather conditions.

In building climate resilience, it is imperative the industry invests in and leverages cutting edge technology. At World Aviation Festival,  there will be a specific IROPS Summit looking at how to manage disruption by utilising technology. The sessions will include speakers from AirAsia, WestJet, Lufthansa, KLM, and more.

Additionally, sustainability will form a core topic at the event exploring everything from digitalisation, ecosystem collaboration, and preparing for optimal SAF production, in the first day alone. Speakers include Lauren Riley, Chief Sustainability Officer and Managing Director, Global Environmental Affairs at United Airlines, and Jane Ashton, Sustainability Director at easyJet. Patrick Edmond will be moderating a panel asking “When can we expect the industry to be prepared for optimal SAF production, and what will this bring?”