Top 5 Things to Know About Airport Resiliency

Staff
November-December
2021

As the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season ends, many airports are reflecting on the impact, devastation and response costs that major storms cause. And we all should be thinking about how to prepare for future storms—hurricanes or otherwise. 

Andrew Holesko, CM, is the chief executive officer and national director of Aviation Services at Passero Associates. Throughout his 30+ years as a planning and design consultant, he has implemented numerous projects that have enhanced resiliency at many airports on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Here are the Top 5 things to consider about airport resiliency:

1. Resiliency can be defined as the ability to adapt and recover quickly from natural disasters and future conditions, such as tidal flooding, storm surge, sea level rise and other natural events. Focusing further on a single word, the natural “events” that require resilience are not limited to storms and floods. Airports also need to be resilient against wildfires, snow and ice, tornadoes, high winds and other significant threats—including infectious diseases such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Why should an airport invest and work to become more resilient? The answer is simple: to protect its assets; to enable it to continue operating effectively during and after disaster events; and to provide a safe environment to those who will operate or be sheltered within your facility. Quick statistic: Each dollar invested in resiliency protection can save $4 to $6 in disaster response and repair.

3. Most existing airport stormwater systems are not capable of handling a major storm event—even those that are properly designed. Consider planning an operational response beyond what is needed during a 100-year storm event. Expect your storm drainage system to fail partially or completely, and not to function as designed. Consider a scenario when no stormwater is capable of leaving the airport. Even worse, think about adjacent water entering the airport and causing additional flooding. What will you do? How will the airport operate?

4. To boost your airport’s resilience, begin by reviewing vulnerable and low-elevation areas of the property that have previously experienced flooding and/or intrusions of water that caused damage. Consider assigning a conceptual flood-protection-line and target elevation above sea level to identify, separate and protect critical areas of the airport. Next, determine what areas can and must remain operational and occupied, with back-up power, water, food and appropriate shelter.

It’s often helpful to subdivide the airport into smaller operational zones:

  • commercial terminal and aircraft parking areas
  • FBO terminals and hangar areas
  • access roads and parking areas
  • fuel storage and fueling operations, and
  • the airfield

The airfield is listed last because during and after a resiliency “event,” the airfield is most likely not going to be operational. Often, only landside areas are available for limited operation and support.

5. Are grant funds available for resiliency projects? Can resilience planning be incorporated into a traditional airport master plan? Yes to both! We suggest taking a holistic approach to resiliency planning by making it a standard component of all future projects, versus making resilience the sole focus of any single project. Using that approach, resilience becomes a logical, grant-eligible portion of future improvements.

The FAA’s advisory circular regarding airport master plans allows items of local interest and need to be included within the scope of a master plan. Resiliency considerations should become a part of related operational and facility planning. This includes strategic plans, sustainability plans, asset management plans, safety management system, operations/certification manual, and emergency response training. There are numerous technical references available from ACRP, and other agencies, that are very helpful.

Put simply, airports can never do “too much” to address and implement resiliency measures. It is wise to protect your infrastructure and prepare for events that may overwhelm your facilities and the surrounding area.

Although no airport can be fully prepared for all natural disasters and other catastrophic events, it is well worth the time to review the best practices already in place throughout the industry. There are great examples of airport shoreline stabilization and flood protection structures available, as well as innovative solutions for emergency power and water system needs.

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