Managing the impact of climate change on aviation

Climate change has an impact on aviation through increasing exposure to severe weather events and weather hazards.

How can climate change impact aviation safety?

As explained in the Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every incremental increase of the global mean surface air temperature magnifies the impacts of severe weather events, such as storms, hurricanes, heatwaves, heavy precipitations, flooding, etc. This can manifest itself in numerous ways, including:

  • increased magnitude and/or frequency of the severe weather events;
  • severe weather events occurring in new regions;
  • severe weather events occurring either earlier or later in the year than they have in the past; and
  • more frequent combinations of severe weather events.

Severe weather events are sources of hazards (hail, lightning strike, runway flooding, low-level wind shear, etc). These hazards may affect, among others:

  • flight operations;
  • aircraft’s airworthiness and performance;
  • workload of flight crews, air traffic control officers, and airport staff; and
  • reliability and performance of Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Air Navigation Services (ANS) equipment and of airports’ safety services. 

If not well understood and anticipated, the trends regarding severe weather events and weather hazards could ultimately result in costly and complex corrective measures to maintain adequate levels of safety.

Managing the impact of climate change is an EU priority

Adaptation to climate change is a strategic priority for the European Union. ‘A new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change’ sets the objective of improving the existing knowledge and management of the uncertainties associated with climate change, and provides for the development of policies in all sectors. In addition, Article 5 of Regulation (EU) 2021/1119  requires the Union institutions and the Member States to ‘ensure continuous progress in enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change’.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Member States share responsibility for all domains of aviation safety. This is why managing the impact of climate change is one of the strategic priorities of the European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS).

EASA Scientific Committee review of weather hazard trends

The scientific knowledge necessary to assess the risks caused by climate change is often not accessible to aviation stakeholders. Publicly available information on weather hazard trends is often general and does not address their specific questions.

Therefore, since 2022, the ‘Task Force on Impact of Climate Change on Aviation and Extreme Weather’  of the EASA Scientific Committee (SciComm) is reviewing and summarising scientific publications on past and future weather hazard trends. Their findings can be consulted in SciComm’s annual report.

The European Network on Impact of Climate Change on Aviation

In 2023, EASA established the European Network on Impact of Climate Change on Aviation (EN-ICCA), a network of selected experts from the aviation industry, national aviation authorities (NAAs), research organisations, and national meteorological services.

The main purpose of the EN-ICCA is to assist aviation stakeholders in addressing effects of climate change on safety and interdependent aspects (efficiency, economy), and to help scientists to identify research priorities regarding the impact of climate change on aviation.

The EN-ICCA issues methodologies, assessments, and recommendations. These outputs help EASA and the aviation stakeholders to:

  • define studies or research projects to fill knowledge gaps in the understanding of weather hazard trends;
  • assess the impact of climate change on the aviation safety domains (flight operations, flight crew training, airworthiness, ATM/ANS safety, ground safety), and define preventive measures;
  • identify best practices in climate change adaptation, which can be shared with aviation stakeholders; and
  • integrate the impact of climate change into the European Safety Risk Management (SRM) process (refer to EPAS Volume III).