Monday, September 10, 2018

Airports near seas in clear and present danger

As a powerful typhoon tore through Japan this week, travellers at Kansai International Airport looked out on a terrifying void: Where there should have seen the runway, they saw only the sea.
They also saw what could be a perilous future for low-lying airports around the world, increasingly vulnerable to the rising sea levels and more extreme storms brought about by climate change. A quarter of the world’s 100 busiest airports are less than 10 meters, or 32 feet, above sea level, according to an analysis from Airports Council International and OpenFlights.
Twelve of those airports — including hubs in Shanghai, Rome, San Francisco and New York — are less than 5 meters above sea level.
“We were trapped,” said Takayuki Kobata, who had hoped to board a Honolulu-bound plane from Kansai, a vast airport on an artificial island near Osaka. “We just had to wait for the storm to blow over.” He spent close to 36 hours trying to find a way off the flooded island.
The threat from rising waters comes as a reckoning for an industry that ranks among the major contributors to climate change. Air travel accounts for about 3% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, but is one of the fastest-growing emissions sources. Emissions from international air travel will triple by 2050, the International Civil Aviation Organisation has predicted.
Extreme weather and rising sea levels today pose one of the most urgent threats to many busy airports, which often weren’t designed with global warming in mind.
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 inundated all three airports that serve New York City. Typhoon Goni closed runways at Hongqiao International Airport outside Shanghai in 2015. The worst floods in nearly a century in Kerala, India, killed over 400 people last month, and the deluge caused Cochin Airport, a regional hub, to close for two weeks.
10/09/18 Hiroko Tabuchi/NYT News Service/Economic Times

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