Three classes of priority adaptation responses have been identified in the adaptation report: "action", "prepare" and "watching brief" responses:
- Action: identifies response which is required in the short term, either to manage short term risks (classified as high) or because the solution to longer term risks needs to begin in the short term because of long planning or implementation cycles.
- Prepare: identifies need for additional research and/or development prior to confirming any risk management actions.
- Watching brief: risks are relevant in longer term and require an on-going watching brief to monitor science evolution and effects of climate change.
The first two classes have been delivered within the first three years (2012-2014). At the request of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), an operational resilience plan was prepared and submitted in 2014. The key points related to the operational resilience include the following:
- To have risk assessments for the infrastructure under its control and for all the services it offers at the airport, with clear management procedures and clear communication plans in place for remedying and dealing with the impact of the loss of infrastructure or service.
- The process should include dissemination of information to passengers and some provision of passenger welfare if the airlines are slow to organise this.
- All plans should be underpinned by robust business continuity models.
- Allocation of capacity during disruption should be given the utmost focus, as at high-density airports such as Heathrow delays cannot be easily absorbed.
Heathrow has implemented a number of new technologies and processes in order to provide higher capacity and to increase its resilience to weather disruption. These measures provide adaptation responses under the "action" class identified in the adaptation report, which address challenges such as heavy rainfall events, changes to groundwater levels and increasing variability of snowfall:
- One way Heathrow is mitigating the impact of changes to wind is through time-based separation (TBS) procedures, which were introduced in March 2015. TBS uses real-time wind data to calculate the optimum safe time between arriving aircraft, allowing separation distances to be reduced to maintain the landing rate. TBS brings additional operational benefits in addition to providing future climate resilience to Heathrow.
- New wake vortex separation rules (RECAT-EU). Another measure under consideration is reducing separations among aircrafts (and therefore increasing airport capacity) under certain particular crosswind conditions, in which the vortex is blown away.
- Airfield flow management through Demand Capacity Balancing (DCB). DCB is able to predict the behaviour of flights and the effects of any actions taken by the airport to change the outcomes. In this way, the actual capacity of the airport can be estimated in advance with higher accuracy, taking into account the expected conditions of a wide range of variables, such as global winds or local weather, and the contingency measures to be adopted by the airport. Airfield flow is subsequently managed taking into account these conditions. DCB is expected to be implemented in 2018-2019.
- Changes to low visibility procedures (LVP) to increase resilience to the impact of fog, through enhanced Instrument Landing Systems (eILS).
- A GBP 37 million investment to improve resilience to snow (following lessons learnt in the 2010 snow event), including additional equipment, new processes for weather forecasting, enhanced command and control structure and a detailed Passenger Welfare Plan.
These measures do not only have an effect in gaining resilience to weather disruption. As the climate change projections for Heathrow suggests higher variability in the future (e.g. for rain and snowfall), the measures implemented are also increasing medium and long-term climate resilience to the airport.
Heathrow’s climate change risk assessment also examines how more extreme temperatures might affect the airport pavements in terms of deformation, bearing capacity and durability, although the risk from the effects of extreme temperature is low in the near to medium term. In the longer term (in 50 years or more) there may be more significant temperature increases, and a need to introduce alternative materials and performance requirements in pavement composition.
Using best available information on future climatic effects and applying a comprehensive risk assessment that took a precautionary worse case approach to future climate change risks, the adaptation report concluded that:
- Heathrow has comprehensive control measures and contingency plans for managing climate related risks, and these are considered sufficient to manage climate change risks in the shorter term (e.g. to 2020).
- It is not feasible at this time to conduct a detailed assessment of climate projections beyond the 2050s since this time scale falls outside typical airport planning cycles and the climate science becomes increasingly uncertain in the longer term.
- Climate risks in the short term are predominantly low, and where risks are more significant these are already being managed through existing mitigation and resilience programmes.
- Assuming no changes to existing control measures, the risks associated with climate change impacts in the medium to longer term are predicted to worsen.
- Assuming the adaptation report is implemented and continually evolved will ensure that residual risks are appropriately managed.
- Key adaptation responses identified in the short term generally build on existing actions planned by the business.
- Delivery of the adaptation actions will be assured through clear ownership across Heathrow’s business units together with a requirement for on-going reporting of progress at senior health, safety and environment (HS&E) performance management fora.
- Regular review (5 yearly comprehensive and mid-point reviews) of the climate risk assessment will ensure continuous updating of the adaption report in line with best available information on climate science, risk thresholds and business and infrastructure planning cycles.
Short-term actions undertaken thus far have mainly addressed current climate variability, and they are opening the way for a more comprehensive, long-term approach to the challenges of climate change. Since 2011, adaptation to climate change has been mainstreamed in the main planning instruments of the airport. This includes the annual strategic capital business plan, which now is dedicating a specific section to resilience investments, the airport management system, which is following ISO14001:2015 guidance, including climate change adaptation, the annual operational resilience plan and a corporate risk process including the regular review of the 34 risks initially identified at the 2011 Adaptation Report.