Respect for Resiliency: Thinking Ahead for Florida Airports
For a long time, airports in desirable coastal destinations were primarily concerned with the influx of incoming tourists passing through their terminals. Now, however, they’re facing challenges that feel lifted from the pages of science fiction. Water is rising. Storms are hitting harder. These new realities are becoming more and more prevalent across the globe, and notably in Florida.
As longtime fixtures in the Florida aviation industry with more than four decades of experience between them, South Florida Aviation Leader John Carrigan, PE, and Tampa Aviation Leader Matt Serynek, PE, have seen these changes firsthand – but they also possess the dependable expertise and corporate backing to create solutions-oriented responses.
In this IQ&A, Garver’s series of conversations with leading experts delivering value to communities across the country, Carrigan and Serynek discuss the steps that Florida airports can take now to make their airfields, terminal facilities, and operations more resilient to such changes, and make sure they’re prepared for the future.
Why do airports need to be mindful of these changes?
It’s really about protecting an airport’s existing infrastructure, the long-term use of their airport property, and future airport operations. For example, if a Florida airport is land constrained, where it’s able to be developed can be heavily influenced by how and where it can accommodate stormwater storage. If a permitting agency augments design criteria for groundwater table elevations and design rainfall intensities, it may result in that airport having to acquire additional property or look for other creative solutions. Existing infrastructure can be directly impacted, as well. Many runways, taxiways, and their related drainage and electrical systems located underground are already dangerously close to or below the high-water table in Florida. As sea levels rise along the coast, that existing infrastructure’s viability becomes a potential issue. Drainage systems will not function properly and you’ll back more water up on the airfield. You could also get saltwater infiltration into your water table, accelerating the deterioration of the underground airfield electrical systems.
Airports need to consider what the impacts could be while identifying potential vulnerabilities to allow them to address those vulnerabilities more effectively, as opposed to waiting until they become a problem when it’s too late.
South Florida Aviation Leader
When should airports begin to think about resiliency planning, and what are some of the first steps?
The short answer is now. An airport can never be too pro-active in planning for the future. And while there may still be some uncertainty with climate change and sea-level rise, looking at an airport’s existing infrastructure and future projects is increasingly important. Airports need to consider what the impacts could be while identifying potential vulnerabilities to allow them to address those vulnerabilities more effectively, as opposed to waiting until they become a problem when it’s too late. In order to determine how climate change might impact the airport, you’re going to need to look at sea level rise, at temperature change, at increases in wind speed velocities, at increases in storm intensities and storm frequencies. All of these elements have a major impact on how an airport functions. You’re going to need to look carefully at each of these elements in order to understand their potential impacts so that effective ways to better mitigate problem areas can be identified. As they say, ‘if you’ve seen one airport you’ve seen one airport.’ And every airport is going to have different and unique issues.
Thankfully, not every airport will be impacted by seal-level rise, but everyone will be impacted by increased temperatures and rainfall and storm intensities. Everyone is at risk from a climate resiliency standpoint.
Tampa Aviation Leader
Which types of airports should consider taking this kind of perspective?
All of them. It’s not just coastal airports that should be considering the risk right now, it’s every airport in Florida. Thankfully, not every airport will be impacted by seal level rise, but everyone will be impacted by increased temperatures and rainfall and storm intensities. Everyone is at risk from a climate resiliency standpoint.
What funding options exist right now?
Airports should take advantage of very recent changes in Florida laws. On May 3, 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the creation of the Statewide Office of Resilience, which expands on a 2021 law that created the Resilient Florida Grant Program. This new law will take effect on July 1, 2022 and allows “an airport” to apply for state grants for resiliency projects. While city and county-run airports in Florida could already attain grant monies per the original law, the changes to the law should now allow independent airport authorities and general aviation airports to also participate and submit resiliency projects for grant funding. The new law will also establish a minimum amount of funding for the Resilient Florida Program of not less than $100 million annually.
What does it take to address these concerns?
Over the years, we’ve found that airports need not only a consultant with engineering expertise, but also planning expertise, land planning expertise, familiarization with the environmental process for projects at airports, as well as familiarity with such issues in Florida. We’ve been working with airports in Florida for more than 40 years between us, and Garver’s award-winning Aviation Team provides engineering and planning solutions to airports across the country. The combination of our Florida airport experience and Garver’s aviation consulting expertise can help airports improve their infrastructure to mitigate negative impacts. More than anything, though, it’s important for airports to take a pro-active approach. Right now, you might not see the direct impacts of climate change at your airport, but you likely will at some point. And, if you’re a Florida airport that wants to ensure you’re prepared for the future and protected from every angle, then you should consider the available state funding and engage a knowledgeable consulting team to help.
To learn more about how Florida airports can become more resilient, contact Garver Aviation below.