How Airports Can Plan For & Overcome Extreme Weather Conditions

Michael Tanser
Communications Specialist

When it comes to ensuring your business runs smoothly and efficiently, most would agree that you need to have as much control over your operations as possible. The aviation industry is no exception - after all, flight delays can have a significant impact on your reputation and bottom line, with the average delay lasting around 12.4 minutes and costing an average of $74.20 per minute. It makes sense to minimise disruption and standardise operations as much as possible - but what about the variables you cannot control?

Almost every business is in some way impacted by weather conditions. For airports, where inclement weather can mean significant disruption, that impact can be catastrophic and affect the entire supply chain. Grounded flights aren’t just bad for passengers - fuel suppliers, into-plane providers, airlines, and many other associated businesses are equally disrupted.

Safety is paramount at all airports - but that doesn’t mean flights and other ground operations can simply be cancelled until the weather clears. Especially when you consider that - at least in the short term - uncommonly extreme weather patterns are due to increase. With global warming causing increasingly extreme weather conditions worldwide, we ask - how can the airports battle the elements?

Runways, Taxiways and Aprons:

An aircraft's ability to take off and land is what most people think of when it comes to inclement weather, and for good reason. Rain and ice can reduce runway friction, potentially leading to increased aircraft stopping distances or even hydroplaning. Build-ups of snow need to be cleared to avoid obstructions.

Even extremely hot weather can affect runway operations, softening asphalt and causing pavement to become more susceptible to damage and deformation.

But possibly the most well-known weather to affect landing and takeoff is wind. Strong crosswinds or tailwinds can massively impact aircraft performance during takeoff and landing, and in some cases can prevent flying altogether.

Here are our Top 10 tips for managing runways and other surfaces in extreme weather conditions:

  1. Regular Inspections - constantly assess surface conditions, including the presence of water, ice, and contaminants, and look for any signs of deterioration or damage. Regular cleaning, repairing of cracks and potholes, and application of sealants to protect against water infiltration are key to ensuring good traction.

  2. Surface Drainage Systems - runways can be equipped with channels and slope gradients, designed to efficiently divert rainwater away from the runway surface.

  3. Rubber Removal - accumulated rubber deposits from aircraft tyres can reduce runway friction, particularly when wet. Use high-pressure water jets and sweepers to remove rubber buildup.

  4. Anti-Hydroplaning Measures - porous friction overlays or transverse grooving reduce the risk of hydroplaning during aircraft landings and takeoffs. Some airports use rubberized friction coatings on runway surfaces to improve traction in wet conditions, reducing hydroplaning and enhancing braking performance.

  5. Deicing and Anti-Icing - glycol-based fluids prevent snow and ice accumulation on runway surfaces. Deicing fluids are applied before snowfall to prevent snow from bonding to the pavement, while anti-icing fluids are applied during or after snowfall to melt existing snow and ice.

  6. Snow Removal - snow ploughs, sweepers, blowers, and brooms can be used to clear snow from runway surfaces, taxiways, aprons, and other critical areas. Some airports have installed snow-melting systems beneath runway surfaces to melt snow and ice, preventing snow accumulation and minimising the need for manual removal.

  7. Surface Cooling - applying water or specialized treatments and coatings with high solar reflectance properties dampens surfaces to dissipate heat and lower temperatures. Using light-coloured or reflective surface materials can also help reduce heat absorption and buildup on runways. Installing canopies or shelters over portions of the runway can provide temporary relief from direct sunlight and help prevent excessive heat buildup.

  8. Wind Monitoring and Runway Selection - wind speed, wind shear, direction, and gusts should be communicated to pilots during pre-flight briefings and via radio transmissions, allowing air traffic controllers to carefully select the most suitable runway for aircraft operations based on wind conditions.

  9. Crosswind Training - Pilots are trained to operate aircraft within specific crosswind limitations, and airlines and regulatory authorities establish crosswind limits that pilots must adhere to during takeoff and landing. Pilots employ specialized techniques to compensate for crosswinds during takeoff and landing, such as crabbing or wing-low methods.

  10. Pilot Awareness - air traffic control and airport authorities provide real-time weather updates to pilots, including information on runway conditions and any specific precautions or procedures to follow during wet weather operations. Vehicle operators need to exercise caution to prevent skidding.
Aircraft on a rainy apron

Ground / Ramp Operations:

Aircraft are not the only things impacted by extreme weather conditions at airports - ground handling vehicles and crew members are equally vital to ensure continued service. Vehicles such as bowsers, tankers, and baggage carts encounter many of the same challenges that aircraft face in slippery, wet, or windy conditions.

Ground handlers and ramp crew are often the unsung heroes of airport operations, performing difficult but necessary tasks in sometimes extremely challenging conditions.

Here are our top tips on how to maintain your ground vehicles and keep your operators safe in extreme weather conditions:

  1. Surface Maintenance - making sure your taxiways and other roads are prepared is as important as your runways. Many of the same precautionary techniques can be utilised, such as de-icing and snow removal, draining implementation and anti-skid surfacing.

  2. Vehicle Modifications - just like standard road vehicles, airport vehicles can be prepared for inclement weather with a variety of add-ons that improve safety or comfort. These include snow tyres or chains, fog lights, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), traction control systems (TCS), stability control systems, and all-wheel or four-wheel drive capabilities. Adequate in-cab air conditioning is also a must in very hot or cold climates.

  3. Emergency Preparedness - all airports maintain robust emergency response plans that outline procedures for responding to accidents, breakdowns, or other emergencies during extreme weather. Emergency equipment, such as first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and emergency shelters, should be readily available for use as needed.

  4. Driver Training and Education - just as pilots are trained to fly in hazardous conditions, so should ground crew be trained to operate their vehicles. Airport personnel should undergo comprehensive training programs that cover safe driving techniques, hazard awareness, and emergency procedures in extreme weather conditions, emphasising the importance of maintaining vehicle control and avoiding risky manoeuvres.

  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - almost every job conducted outside has some form of PPE requirement. Ensure your operators are protected from head to toe and prepared for anything that may come their way, including waterproof reflective clothing, windbreakers, and non-slip boots. Hot weather requirements may include clothing made from moisture-wicking fabric and wearable neck fans.

  6. Well-Equipped Rest Areas - the work carried out by baggage handlers, refuellers, and other ground crew can be difficult at the best of times - at extreme temperatures or windy, wet conditions, and fatigue can quickly creep in. Tired, stressed employees are also more prone to making errors. To combat this during extreme weather, ensure employees have a temperature-controlled indoor environment in which to rest during their breaks.


While you may expect that passengers and staff should be safe from the elements within the walls of your terminals, these buildings should also implement measures to protect from extreme weather conditions.

Here are some suggestions for ways to prepare for the worst when designing or upgrading your buildings:

  1. Building Design and Maintenance - Terminals should be designed and constructed to withstand a range of weather conditions, including high winds, heavy rain, snow, and extreme temperatures. Robust building materials, reinforced structures, and weather-resistant coatings help protect terminals from damage. Regular inspections and maintenance of roofs and facades allow you to identify and address any damage or weaknesses that may compromise structural integrity during extreme weather events. 
  1. Drainage Systems - Terminals need efficient drainage systems, including adequate guttering and stormwater management facilities, to effectively channel rainwater away from building foundations and prevent flooding. Regular cleaning and maintenance of drainage infrastructure should be conducted to ensure optimal performance.
  1. Emergency Power and Lighting - If extreme weather happens such as a tornado, storm, or other highly destructive event, terminals should be equipped with backup power generators and emergency lighting systems to maintain essential operations and provide illumination during power outages. Make sure to also regularly test and maintain these systems to ensure reliability should you ever need them.
  1. Climate Control Systems - buildings should be equipped with climate control systems, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), to regulate indoor temperatures and humidity levels during extreme weather conditions. These systems help ensure passenger comfort and protect sensitive equipment and materials.

  2. Weather Monitoring and Alerts - as the saying goes, ‘forewarned is forearmed’. Airports should utilise advanced weather monitoring systems to track extreme weather events in real-time and provide early warnings to terminal occupants and staff. Weather alerts can be disseminated through various channels, including digital signage, public address systems, and mobile apps.
  1. Evacuation Routes and Procedures - always clearly mark evacuation routes, emergency exits, and assembly areas to facilitate safe evacuation in the event of severe weather emergencies, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Ensure terminal staff are trained in emergency procedures and conduct regular drills to ensure readiness.
  1. Coordination with Emergency Services - lastly, collaborate with local emergency services, such as fire departments, police departments, and medical personnel, to coordinate response efforts during extreme weather events. Joint exercises and training sessions can also be conducted to ensure effective communication and collaboration.
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