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Towards a Guideline for Assessing Climate Change Vulnerabilities of Northern Airports

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Transportation infrastructure in the North connects communities and fosters security to a degree that is unparalleled in other regions in Canada

Economic and lifestyle factors in the North rely heavily on the transportation network – a network that, when reliable, reduces the costs of living, supports inter-community and social mobility, and promotes effective resource development. Most northern communities are isolated with air travel being their only year-round option for the transport of goods and people.

One hundred and fifty-six airports, of which 67 are located in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, lie within the permafrost zones of Canada. Of those airports, 32% can be found in the continuous permafrost region and an additional 45% in regions with discontinuous permafrost. Air temperature in northern Canada has warmed and is projected to continue to do so at more than double the global rate, significantly impacting permafrost, as well as local weather conditions that are critical for safe aviation operations.

Recognizing the critical nature of airport infrastructure, a literature review and a stakeholder questionnaire were conducted to compile existing analysis methodologies for carrying out risk and vulnerability assessments for northern aviation infrastructure in a changing climate. The review and the questionnaire revealed that risk and vulnerability assessments have been completed to date; however, inconsistencies were identified regarding the methodology and associated definitions, including the approach for climate change data inclusion, addressing the uncertainties in the climate change projections, and the physical and operational elements considered.

As a result, it is recommended that a specific standard on climate change vulnerability assessments for northern airports be developed that includes guidance on the following:

  • The methodology to be used for the analysis;
  • Risk and vulnerability assessment terminology;
  • Climate parameters and their projected changes;
  • Consideration of uncertainties from the projections and operations (e.g., traffic volumes, aircraft types); and
  • How to apply the results in a decision-making process as well as in operations and maintenance.

A climate change vulnerability assessment should address the full spectrum of airport operations and maintenance activities and not be limited to the assessment of the physical infrastructure. This broader, holistic view ensures that the current and future demands of an airport are met, its resilience is identified, and adequate adaptation measures are presented. In particular in the North, planning is essential as significant effort may be required to implement particular measures.

Based on the work completed, the need for a standard in support of climate change risk and vulnerability assessments was identified. This standard should be specifically tailored towards northern airport infrastructure and include the holistic view required for adequate adaptation planning.

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