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Navigating Turbulence: Climate Change’s Impact on Aviation Operations

By: David Watts | Tags: Human Factors & Ergonomics, Service Design, Customer Insight

Climate change is reshaping the global landscape, and its effects are reverberating throughout the aviation industry. One of the most palpable consequences is the increase in weather-related disruptions, leading to delays and operational problems. As the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events surge, airports and airlines are grappling with the need to adapt their strategies to ensure the safety and efficiency of air travel. 

Mima's Managing Director, David Watts, explores how the aviation industry can get ahead of the challenges posed by climate change in what is already an exacting time for the industry, as it continues to rebuild post-pandemic...

A plane viewed from inside an airport terminal window speckled by rain.

The rise in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and the intensification of storms all contribute to a more unpredictable environment for aviation operations. Runway flooding, reduced aircraft performance in extreme heat and complicated operations associated with snow and deicing can pose serious challenges to the aviation ecosystem.

What is the practical implication of this change? In our last blog post on this topic, we wrote about how transport operators can do better in supporting passengers when things go wrong. These weather-related delays have the potential to be bigger and longer with a greater chance that transport operators will be overwhelmed.

Large numbers of people may be stuck at the airport waiting for flights to restart and the service to recover. The combination of overcrowding and long delays is toxic for any attempt to minimise the impact on the passenger experience. 

Airports may need to start thinking about the capacity of their spaces more from this perspective than just the normal volume of flights. Contingency plans will need to be created and tested to hold passengers in different parts of the airport, largely on landside.

David Watts, Managing Director Mima

An example of this should be the liaison between airports and businesses within the airport to make sure there's adequate energy, food and water supplies to care for stranded passengers during extreme weather events which may close the airport for a significant time or cause long delays.

The normal passenger complaint in this scenario is a lack of information. Airports and airlines will have to work extra hard to optimise all communication channels to give customers timely, informative, honest and actionable information. More staff will have to be mobilised to be ‘out on the floor’ talking to and supporting passengers. Those staff will have to be given the right tools so they are fully informed of what is happening and when. All this needs planning as mobilising teams of people doesn’t happen instantly and some may need additional training as this probably isn’t their day job.

One key change for transport operators is going to be looking outside of their boundaries. Customers are taking a journey and the airport is only delivering one step of that journey. Passengers want help in connecting up these steps. But critically for operational thinking, operators will need to do more to look at the impact of disruptions in these other legs of the journey. For example, what is the knock-on impact on departures going to be because of some flooding on nearby roads?

From a passenger experience, transport operators arguably don’t always deal well with delays and operational problems. Climate change and increasingly extreme weather have the potential to make these events bigger and more frequent. If airports and airlines are to improve the passenger experience during these times, they are going to find the challenge is just getting harder.

We know there is a clear route through these challenges and it's through good planning, a focus on disseminated information based on a single version of the truth and paying attention to passenger communication rather than just fixing the problem.

If you would like to talk to us about how service design methods can help you to map and design for this challenge then get in touch at david.watts@mimagroup.com

Written by:

Photo of David Watts

David Watts
Managing Director

David is our Managing Director with over 20 years of practice as a Human Factors and design consultant. He has delivered projects across sectors including rail, O&G, airports, utilities and the emergency services. He has worked with clients such as Network Rail, Siemens, easyJet, WSP, National Express, TfL and HS2.