Post-Hazard Event Airport Recovery — Review of Historic Events & Key Controlling Factors

Jaskanwal P. S. Chhabra, Ph.D., Greg Brunelle, MS, MA, Youngsuk Kim, Ph.D., Junichi Sakai, Ph.D, Deepak Pant, Ph.D, & Shabaz Patel, MS


There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.

- John Cage, Artist & Philosopher (1912–1992)

Throughout 2020 a passenger entering one of the world’s airports might pause momentarily upon walking through the automated glass doors to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of travel during a global pandemic. Cavernous terminals that had been previously filled with thousands of people moving seamlessly amongst each other, bags in tow, nearly every seat filled, lines at all counters and an ambient din that required focus to discern relevant messages from hidden speakers was now an eerie emptiness, coupled with near silence. Yet the experience described is misleading. Despite necessary restrictions imposed to counter the global pandemic that have appeared to “make a silence” of most human activity, behind the walls of the nearly vacant passenger areas and in the dozens of nondescript buildings across the landscape of airports, there remained ‘something to see, something to hear’. In fact, there necessarily remained a great deal of activity.

The role airports play in our world is critical and irreplaceable, and any disruption to their operations has immediate cascading impacts, least anyone reading this not have experienced the stress of a delayed departure and the dreaded “will I make my connection?” thoughts that follow. However, the global aviation industry is much more than just commercial passenger traffic supporting business and leisure travel. Disruptions create far greater economic and business operations impacts than the occasional need to catch a later flight. Cargo aviation operations provide a critical part of global trade, accounting for the movement of nearly $7 trillion (US) worth of goods per year.[1] Additionally, the air transport industry supports 29 million jobs globally and billions of dollars in local industry and infrastructure.[2] And, to add an acute point given the global pandemic, aviation supports pharmaceutical and medical operations, carrying doctors and specialists rapidly to areas where they are needed, epidemiological investigators to locations of emerging diseases, and medications valued at more than $1 trillion (US) to the furthest corners of the world.[3] What example could put greater emphasis on the need to ensure that aviation, and of its component parts — including airports — remain resilient and functional at all times?

Airports are often referred to as cities unto themselves[4] as they are composed of highly complicated intertwined and highly technical infrastructure. As such they are also very expensive to operate. With the widespread emergence of COVID-19, governments rapidly imposed travel restrictions at the local, inter-state/regional and international levels. And while the restrictions varied during the calendar year, and the volume of air passengers likewise fluctuated (based on regional illness trends, local restrictions and holidays), overall commercial passenger air service experienced an annual decrease of greater than 60%[5], flying more than 600 million fewer passengers than the year before. The crisis reversed a decade-long trend of annual multiple percentage point increases and, despite periodic decreases following disruptive global events, the past year witnessed the greatest single-year decrease since the age of jet travel began (see Figure 1). As a result, revenues generated from passenger retail services within airports to landing and terminal fees paid by airlines to airports have greatly reduced.

To offset this unprecedented impact, governments provided economic relief and funding to their flagship airlines. In the US, two tranches of funding support, one in April and another in late December provided a total of $40 billion (US) to its major air carriers.[6] But despite their symbiotic relationship, airports received only $14 billion (US)[7] Yet regardless of having lost significant sources of revenue, even if only providing cargo and limited passenger service, every airport must be fully functional to ensure safe and timely operations. This economic crisis has strained airport budgets significantly and will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on their ability to invest in their own infrastructure and require executive leaders to seek ways to cut costs. As such, smart investment that maximizes return on investment and enhances resiliency to resist future disruptions has never been more important. Leveraging emerging technology can make those efforts faster, more accurate and less expensive.

Airport managers at every airport, of every size and service level, recognize the criticality of their ability to remain open and able to provide service. To that end, they and their emergency management, engineering, and operations teams invest considerable time and money working to prevent, mitigate, prepare for and respond to routine disruptive incidents which cannot be avoided. Understandably over the past 20 years much focus has been placed on human-caused disruptions, particularly malicious intentional acts. And while the risk of terrorism, crime and violent acts remains very real and needs to continue to be a priority area of focus; natural disasters pose a significant risk to airport operations and a more common cause of disruption. Examples of natural hazards that can cause prolonged disruption to airport operations include earthquakes, floods and extreme wind events (including tornadoes, hurricanes/typhoons and derechos). Emergency planning and airport infrastructure hardening, often included during capital improvement planning efforts, must consider their vulnerability to these risks to minimize potential damage and therefore costly disruptions. As members of the regional community in which they exist, airports also serve an increasing role in post-disaster response and recovery efforts, particularly life-saving humanitarian relief,[8] thus expanding their functions to include being a critical life-line for a population affected by disaster.[9] As with any planning effort, it’s best to begin by breaking the problem down into its component parts.

At this point there are a limited number of studies that have systematically examined different factors impacting airport operations after natural hazard impacts and highlighting the key considerations that affect airport recovery.[10] In this light, the goal of this article is to review the damage to airports as a result of past hazard events, understand their functional recovery durations (i.e. the duration after the hazard over which the different levels of functionality were achieved) and determine the key factors impacting their functional recovery. This effort can support focused planning and investment in the future.

Summary and key findings

Based on this review, it is clear that partial-to-near-full functional recovery of airports after earthquakes, floods and extreme wind events is rather quick. Though permanent repair efforts to restore damaged infrastructure can take a considerable amount of time (many weeks to many months), typically, limited operations can be resumed within 24 hours and full/near-full restoration of both cargo and passenger services were resumed within a few days. This is a testament to the work that has been accomplished by those responsible to date. However, the race to resilience has no finish line and continued planning and investment is needed. Our review supports the assumption that each hazard brings unique considerations for planners and that lessons learned from these past events can guide future planning and emerging technology development.


Following an earthquake, as expected, terminal buildings designed per new design and building codes performed well in comparison to be buildings designed per relatively older codes. Examples of this were found in the review of damage to San Francisco International Airport in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the Kumamoto airport in 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. In addition to the recovery from building damage, the change in airlines schedules and flight crew diversion/availability after the earthquake was found to be a controlling factor for the resumption of normal operations. Note that in most of the historic events reviewed, the structural damage to airport infrastructure was relatively minor. One rare case was the Eloy Alfaro International Airport following the 2016 Ecuador earthquake where severe structural damage to airport infrastructure occurred (collapse of the Air Traffic Control Tower). Despite this, commercial operations were resumed nine days after the earthquake by constructing temporary facilities.


Though flood recovery of airports is also relatively timely, a contrasting aspect of flood recovery in comparison to seismic recovery is accessibility of airport facilities; whether delayed by continued inundation (awaiting water to recede, evaporate or be physically removed) and/or accessibility hindered by flooding in the surrounding area. Furthermore, flooding of the electrical infrastructure, as observed for Terminal 1 of Kansai Airport as a result of Typhoon Jebi, could be a significant impedance in the overall recovery of the airport and is a major vulnerability.

Wind Hazards

Following extreme wind events, the immediate operations may be temporarily ceased to allow for inspection of the airfield and light debris removal. However, it is noted that airport operations are typically limited and then completely halted prior to a major wind event such as a typhoon or hurricane. This preventative measure allows for actions to be taken to minimize impacts, thus allowing for more rapid service restoration following the event. Furthermore, as seen for earthquake recovery, even with severe structural damage as in the case of Key West Airport after Hurricane Irma, the functional recovery of the airport is relatively fast by employing temporary measures to resume the operations. However, when Tropical Storm, Hurricane or Typhoon warnings are issued, it is likely that airport employees, contractors and local flight crew members will need to attend to their personal preparedness, thus delaying recovery and restoration of normal operations.


After reviewing a cross-section of recent past events it’s apparent modern airport infrastructure is able to avoid severe structural damage, and thus long-duration downtimes, when exposed to routine natural disasters. However, major disasters (e.g., strong earthquakes, extreme wind events (including historic or direct-impact typhoons/hurricanes/wind-events, prolonged inundation from flooding) remain a considerable risk and can cause long term, expensive disruptions. Our review identified several key factors controlling downtime at airports due to impacts by the assessed natural hazards and some initial considerations, to include:

Pre-Incident Closures and/or Operational Limitations:

- Integration with alerting authorities (e.g., weather services, government disaster management offices) as well as the quality (accuracy, completeness and timeliness) of the weather alerts received enhances operational decision making and readiness and allows airport personnel to take action to reduce impacts. These actions may include, among others, coordination with airlines, personnel and travelers as well as protective mitigative measures such as securing vulnerable sites, equipment and materials.

Hazard Event Duration

- Exposure to prolonged flooding, sustained winds and the duration of shaking during a seismic event have a direct impact on the level of damage received. As such, planning simulations should include various scenarios to provide risk managers with a broad understanding of their vulnerabilities so that rare events are considered in capital investments, mitigation projects and operational planning.

Runway/Taxiway Inspection and Debris Removal:

- The speed with which a comprehensive inspection of runway/taxiway conditions can be conducted as well as how quickly debris materials can be removed after an event has a direct correlation to resumption of operations.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) Damage and Power Restoration:

- Loss of ATC facilities, partial or complete, is one of the most significant impacts to an airport’s operations and poses one of the most critical safety issues. ATC facilities have typically been built to withstand known risks however older facilities may have significant vulnerabilities. Additionally, consideration must be given to key components such as power, telecom, and water; the disruption of which can immediately hinder ATC operations, regardless of structural impacts to the facility. The ability to rapidly address damage to windows is also a key factor.

- Hardening of existing facilities, securing equipment to resist shaking or breakage, ensuring on-site redundancy (even if in storage for rapid deployment), and having materials on-hand to cover broken windows will allow for not just rapid restoration but potentially nearly uninterrupted service.

Non-ATC Facility Power Restoration:

- As there is little to no superfluous infrastructure within an airport, all support facilities and services, including security, terminals and fueling and ancillary aviation services (e.g., ground power for aircraft) are critical to operations. Pre-incident storage in safe locations for mobile equipment, hardening against water intrusion and investing in on-site, securely placed back-up power generation is highly recommended.

Structural Damage Inspection and Immediate Repair:

- The ability to rapidly conduct inspections for structural integrity issues as well as having ‘quick fix’ materials stored on site (e.g., tarps for roofs) ensures the ability of an airport to protect staff and travelers as well as resume at least partial services quickly. Planners should work with operations personnel to determine what services can be provided in alternate on-site locations should the primary location be compromised by the hazard.

- Rapid inspection by qualified personnel will also allow for more quickly arranging for professional repair by outside contractors.

Site Access:

- Regardless of the impacts to the airport, if employees, contractors, flight crews and passengers can’t arrive or depart by road or rail, operations will become immediately challenging, and soon impossible. Multiple examples of travelers becoming stranded and the airport having to serve as a make-shift shelter as well as airport employees who were onsite at the time the hazard occurred now having to work extended periods are cited in this review. Airport planners should assess the vulnerability of their workforce (including those employed by onsite contracted services), to determine overall access vulnerability. Developing reduced workforce and service plans as well as educating employees on personal preparedness is a primary goal. More advanced planning should include developing plans for assisting workers with transportation to and from the airport.

Review of historic damage and recovery

Our team reviewed and compiled a summary of the damage and recovery of airports under various past earthquakes, floods, and extreme wind events in order to understand the different factors that can potentially impact the recovery process. To determine which components should be examined we refer to the six as identified by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s HAZUS-MH Risk Assessment guide[11], which cites the following items for focused risk assessment: (1) Terminal buildings, (2) Air traffic control tower, (3) Hanger facilities, (4) Fuel facilities, (5) Parking, and (6) Runways. Clearly, the functionality of an airport before and after a hazard is highly dependent on the functionality of each of these components to varying degrees. We noted that along with their dependence on physical infrastructure airport operations also significantly depend on: (1) power availability, (2) ease of site access for employees, contractors, flight crews and travelers, (3) changes in the airline schedules, (4) prioritization of the airport usage for rescue and military operations, and other factors as well. As described in the following sections, different factors listed here were found to be controlling in the recovery of the airports after various historic events.

Earthquake Related Damage and Recovery

1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, USA -17th October 1989

The San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport were impacted by PGA ~0.26g following a 6.9 earthquake

● At San Francisco International Airport, non-structural damage to the Air Traffic Control Tower, including computer equipment falling (typewriters, monitors and other equipment that had not been securely fastened to a wall) and the loss of glass to one large window, occurred. Additionally the elevator was rendered inoperable, which created a challenge for staff. So while ATC remained operational, non-structural damage and hazards resulted in the need to stop service followed by the need to limit air service until more substantial repairs could be made (e.g., loss of window in the tower created a noise hazard for employees; plexiglass was temporarily installed to provide a rapid repair). One building designed according to an obsolete seismic code was condemned and rezed due to failure of reinforced concrete columns. At least one power generator failed to start upon loss of off-site power which resulted in prolonged disruption to key functions such as baggage handling. The airport was completely closed for 13 hours (ref). was functional within a day, however, it took several days for airlines to operate normally due to flight crew availability. (ref).

● At Oakland international airport, about 3,000 ft at the north end of the 10,000-ft-long main runway, the adjacent taxiway, and the dike that borders the bay were severely damaged by soil liquefaction (ref). Within 1.5 hours, flights were shifted back to the main runway, which had been shortened to 7,000 ft (ref). Most of the runway damage was repaired in 4 weeks, and as a result the airport was able to resume essentially full operations with a shortened operational runway 8,860 ft (2,700 m) long on November 20, 1989 (ref).

1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (Kobe earthquake), Japan — 17 January 1995

Following this 6.9M earthquake, the Osaka International Airport and Kansai International Airport were impacted by PGA around 0.5g and 0.3g, respectively (ref).

● At Osaka International Airport, the runway and taxiway were cracked, and the outer wall of the passenger terminal building peeled off.

● At Kansai International Airport, the wall surface of the passenger terminal, railway station, and multi-story parking garage were visibly cracked however no major structural damage was discovered (ref). With this relatively minor damage, no impedance in the operation of services occured (ref), however, at Kansai airport delays in the flight operations were reported (ref).

2003 Hokkaidō Earthquake, Japan — 25 September 2003

● An 8.2M earthquake impacted the Kushiro airport, which experienced a PGA ~ 0.4g (ref). No structural damage was observed however severe interior damage occurred throughout the main terminal and air traffic control, with large sections of the ceiling collapsing (ref). Business operations were resumed on the same day of the event, and the normal operations were resumed on the following day (ref).

2010 Chile Earthquake, Chile -27 February 2010

● A massive 8.8M earthquake which resulted in more than 3 minutes of shaking led to the Santiago International Airport experiencing PGA of about0.8g. Primarily non-structural damage resulted in the closure of the international airports in Santiago (ref). Operations were shut down for 48 hours following the earthquake; however, a small amount of domestic and international flights were allowed to both arrive and depart from the airport (ref). Four days after the event, the airport opened to passenger flights and national flights were operating at 60% capacity (ref). In about 30 days, the airport was operating at full capacity with all buildings open and shops, restaurants, and other services available for passengers.

2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake (Great East Japan Earthquake) — 11 March 2011

● As a result of a 9.0M megathrust earthquake that struck off of the east coast of Japan, the Hanamaki and Ibaraki airports experienced peak ground acceleration (PGA) in the range of 0.4–0.5g (ref). The observed damage was primarily non-structural but commercial passenger service was stopped as suspended ceilings collapsed in the terminals. While passenger traffic was closed, working with Japan’s national government, Hanamaki Airport remained operational for disaster response and relief operations. Passenger services were restored at Hanamaki after 6 days and at Ibaraki after 3 days.

● At Fukushima airport (PGA~0.5g), glass windows of the air traffic control tower were completely destroyed. However, the airport remained operational following the event (ref).

● Sendai Airport suffered damage directly from the earthquake but was further devastated by the subsequent tsunami. As a result of the inundation, Japan’s military began runway debris removal immediately however the damage was quite extensive, thus passenger travel was not possible for some time.

2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, Japan — 16 April 2016

● Two major earthquakes struck the Kumamoto region in April 2016: A 6.2M on 14 April followed by a main shock of 7.0 on the 16th. During the latter event, Kumamoto airport experienced a PGA in the range of 0.5–0.8g (ref). The airport was closed due to non-structural damage within the terminal, including ceiling damage in isolated areas as well as minor damage to internal fixtures and minor cracking in interior concrete shear walls (ref).

○ This event demonstrated the superior performance of rigid suspended ceilings over the inferior performance of the flexible suspended ceilings (as observed in the previously detailed events). Additionally, the older reinforced concrete International Terminal, built in the late 1960s was found to experience relatively more structural damage in comparison to the newer terminal building (ref).

● The airport gradually reopened with flights starting three days following the earthquake (ref) and 90% of the passenger flights were reportedly restored in around 35 days (ref).

2016 Ecuador earthquake, Ecuador — 16 April 2016

● Following a 7.8M earthquake, Alfaro Int’l Airport experienced PGA in the range of 0.2g-0.5g (ref). This was a relatively rare example of severe damage as the air traffic control tower collapsed and extensive damage was observed to the terminals, communications room, air navigation equipment and generator (ref). After the event, air operations were suspended completely (ref). Even with such severe damage, a temporary terminal (ref) and control tower were built within 9 days after the earthquake to restart operations (ref). The start of the reconstruction of the airport was announced on Nov 23 2018 and it was anticipated to take 2 years to complete (ref).

2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi earthquake, Japan — 5 September 2018:

● The New Chitose airport was impacted by PGA around 0.5g (ref) following a 6.7 earthquake. Non-structural damage was observed in the airport terminal building (ref). The airport resumed business operations within a day after the earthquake (ref) and regular operations were resumed 2 days after the event (ref).

Flood Related Damage and Recovery

Typhoon №18, Japan — 24 September 1999

● Typhoon 18 (“Bart”) was the only Super Typhoon of the 1999 season. Extensive damage occurred across western Japan. The Yamaguchi Ube Airport facilities, including the passenger terminal building and power station building were inundated by storm surge which reached a maximum of nearly 1.5 m. Airport operations were completely stopped (ref). Though airport parking facilities, and the runways were also flooded, key electronics and technology were not catastrophically impacted and, after dewatering operations, operations resumed within 4 days.

Chicago Severe Rain — 12–15 September 2008

● Over the course of 51 consecutive hours in mid-September, central and northern Illinois received record rainfall, as successive remnants from several now-extra tropical systems moved across the region.[12] More than 6.5 inches of rain in one 24 hour period at Chicago O’Hare Airport.[13] As a result, underground electrical switches controlling signals for MTA rail service to O’Hare Airport were damaged and required manual operation, thus slowing access to the airport for rail passengers for several weeks.[14] Roads across the region were inundated as well, thus restricting access to the airport for passengers, employees and flight crews.[15] Flight cancellations and delays continued for several days however no major damage to the airport was reported.

Hurricane Harvey, USA — 24 August — 1 September 2017

● Hurricane Harvey was a strong Category 4 that meandered over Texas for four days, dropping more than 50 inches of rain in many areas. The three airports (not including local GA airports) that were most directly impacted were William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), Ellington Airport (EFD) and George Bush International Airport (IAH).[16] All three are managed by the same parent organization (Houston Airport System). Commercial flights were suspended at all three facilities, both due to pre-event protective action and due to post event flooding, particularly regional flooding which blocked safe access to the facilities. Additionally, runway inundation stranded commercial passenger aircraft and major airlines reports that passengers were stranded within the terminals. As normal supply chain operations in support of the airport ceased, innovative feeding, cleaning and caring for passengers and stranded airport staff were implemented.[17]

● Further complicating the human capital aspect of this disaster, many airport employees and contractors, as well as local flight crews, were survivors of the hurricane and had to tend to their own safety. Despite the unprecedented amount of precipitation, all three airports were able to support military and government relief operations throughout the incident (with weather-related flight restrictions and periodic runway inundation delays). Within 5 days, commercial passenger operations were resumed. Noteworthy is that with the catastrophic flooding across the region, routine business, retail and recreational travel to and from the area was not allowed, therefore, appropriately, airport response and recovery efforts were focused on disaster response and relief operations. Functional disruption repair was prioritized for those missions.

Typhoon Jebi, Japan — 4 September 2018

● Typhoon Jebi was a Category 5-equivalent Typhoon that resulted, at the time, in the most expensive insured loss in Japan’s history. Catastrophic damage included the runway and basement of the terminal building at Kansai International Airport being flooded. The disaster response center and an electric substation located in the basement of the terminal building lost power, which interrupted operations and delayed the recovery process (ref, ref). The bridge connecting the mainland with the airport was hit by a tanker ship that became unmoored by strong winds. The subsequent damage rendered the airport inaccessible (ref). One runway became operational after 3 days, the remaining after 10 (ref). One of the terminal buildings reopened after 3 days, but an additional 7 days were needed to partially reopen the second terminal building and another full week to resume full operations (ref).

Extreme Wind Related Damage and Recovery

This section presents a review of damage and recovery of airports as the result of extreme wind events.

Hurricane Katrina, USA — 29th August 2005:

Hurricane Katrina, which achieved Category 5 strength but had weakened to Category 3 by the time it made landfall over New Orleans, Louisiana, caused catastrophic damage and flooding in one of the worst natural disasters in US history.

● Louis B. Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was impacted directly, primarily by long duration winds. The airport had no significant airfield damage and had no standing water in the aircraft movement area (ref), however, it sustained damage to its roofs, hangars and fencing (ref). The airport completed its closure activities, stopping all flights, the day prior to landfall but was able to accept relief flights soon after weather conditions allowed. Though the commercial business remained closed, as the floods impacted the city and access to the region was tightly controlled, the airport was able to receive humanitarian flights (ref) and the airport infrastructure was used to aid the relief efforts (ref).

● Despite power, communications and logistics damage and interruptions, the airport served as a shelter for those stranded prior to the storm, a shelter for those who had nowhere else to go and could make it to the airport, a field hospital and a temporary morgue facility.[18]

● Commercial cargo flights resumed on September 10 and limited commercial passenger service resumed on September 13 (ref). However, it was expected to take more than a year for all the airlines to resume operations at pre-Katrina status. Further details on the recovery of Louis B. Armstrong New Orleans International Airport other airports impacted by Hurricane Katrina can be found here.

St. Louis Tornado — 22 April 2011:

An EF4 tornado packing 200 mph winds struck the St. Louis region, part of a multi-day tornado outbreak across the central US.

● The tornado crossed directly onto the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport property, threatening passengers boarded onto aircraft, flight crews and operations personnel. While ground crew had been notified of lightning in the area, there was a delay in notifying travelers, flight crews on boarded aircraft and operations personnel of the tornado warning. Only the Air Traffic Control Tower was warned to take protective actions prior to the event occurring.[19]

● Nearly all windows in Terminal 1 were broken, winds were then able to strike interior portions of the terminal sending debris across passengers areas, and material from the airport could be found up to 1.5 miles away. Despite the considerable non-structural damage to its property, Lambert–St. Louis only ceased operations for 24 hours. With the tornado occurring Friday evening, the airport managed to operate at 70% capacity on Sunday, 90% capacity on Monday, and 100% on Tuesday (ref).

Hurricane Sandy, USA — 29th October 2012:

Hurricane Sandy had weakened below the threshold of “hurricane” when it made landfall over Northern New Jersey in 2012, however a combination of meteorological factors created what disaster experts refer to as a “Super Storm”. As a result, catastrophic devastation occurred across one of the most densely populated regions of the US and caused billions of dollars of damage and prolonged disruptions to many critical infrastructure sectors, including aviation.

● John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia(LGA), and Newark (EWR) International Airports were directly impacted, as was predicted in the days preceding the event. Adequate pre-incident warnings allowed for protective measures to be implemented. As such, all flights from the region and airport operations were ceased the day prior to storm arrival (ref).

● Storm surge flooded runways at JFK and LaGuardia, and Newark experienced prolonged power interruptions. LaGuardia sustained wind damage to terminals in addition to its runways and tarmac being flooded by storm surge (ref). Additionally, Newark had considerable non-structural damage such as shattered terminal windows and knocked down light poles. As a result at Newark airport, 30 damaged buildings needed to be repaired, including broken glass doors, heating systems, and electrical systems.

● Limited operations at all three facilities were resumed within 48 hours and full operations at JFK and EWR were resumed within a shorter period than LGA, primarily due to the level of flooding that LaGuardia experienced (ref)[20] [21].

● It is noteworthy that some operations were delayed as very few staff and flight crew members were able to access the airport due to a widespread fuel shortage, commuter transportation closures/limitations and their own priorities as survivors of the storm (ref).

● All three facilities served as receiving points for the considerable humanitarian relief that was brought to the region, thus having to integrate those operations into normal cargo and passenger operations.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Thunderstorm/Wind Event — 27 September 2014:

Thunderstorms moved through the Phoenix metropolitan region during the late morning, bringing sustained heavy winds exceeding 50 mph, including a 67 mph wind gust (ref), and torrential rain that flooded regional streets.

● Substantial damage was reported to several terminals, with roofing materials landing in the taxiway areas and having to be cleared prior to full operations resuming. Limited advanced warning of the storm resulted in last minute flight diversions of more than 40 flights[22], however, recovery was relatively quick and it took the airport only 6 hours to return to normal operations (ref).

Hurricane Irma, USA — 10 September 2017

● In mid-September 2017, Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded. Traversed the state of Florida. While the storm weakened from its peak strength earlier in the week, Miami International Airport, the Orlando International Airport, and the Key West Airport experienced wind speeds of 100 mph (ref), 59 mph (ref) and 185 mph (ref), respectively. Prior to landfall many airports across the state were closed, with more than 12,500 flights cancelled.[23] Noteworthy is the fact that this hurricane resulted in the largest evacuation in Florida’s history and, as such many tourists were stranded within the state and at airports and many airport employees, contractors and flight crews were also evacuated from their homes.

● Damage across Florida was significant. At Miami International Airport, leaks were found in each of the airport’s terminals and water seepage through glass panes was reported (ref). The airport operations were stopped two days before the hurricane impacted the airport (ref), and were resumed on a limited schedule on Tuesday (ref). In addition to addressing damage that may have been caused by Irma, operations could only resume once personnel had returned. Many Floridians evacuated ahead of Irma, meaning many workers first had to return to the area before they could take up their posts at the airport (ref). Full operations were expected by the end of weekend, Sept 17, 2017 (Sunday) (ref). Similarly at Orlando international airport, limited operations were resumed on Tuesday morning (ref). The airport experienced water intrusions throughout the main Terminal, torn canopies at the departure and arrival curbs, as well as debris and obstructions on the airport roadway system (ref). Similar to the Miami international airport, the resumption of normal operations was controlled by the employee availability (ref). At Key West airport, the operations were ceased on 6th Sept. 2017 (ref) while the airport was impacted by the Hurricane on 10th Sept. 2017 (ref). Though the Key West airport experienced severe damage to all the facilities, it is noteworthy that the airport was closed to commercial flights for only 12 days (ref) and a mobile air control tower was installed in order to temporarily resume the operations (ref).


As evident from the various case studies discussed, post-hazard impacts can be minimized and recovery times can be expedited by examining the vulnerabilities of various common airport infrastructure factors and focusing mitigation and planning efforts accordingly. Airport executive leaders, operations managers and emergency managers already engage in extensive operational and physical risk assessment activities, including facility improvements and developing detailed response and recovery plans. They should ensure that they are focusing on the list of key factors identified here as part of their assessments. But it is also recognized that planning is a time consuming process that requires considerable effort by various stakeholders across the entire enterprise. And it can also be difficult to compile and assess the copious amounts of highly detailed data, schematics and systems as well as overlay the business and operational processes that rely upon them in a holistic manner. In the near future, this may be a much easier process.

There are emerging technology solutions that are able to create multi-dimensional views of both physical and operational systems, assess the impacts of natural hazards on both and provide detailed predictions of damage, disruptions and downtime. Newly created machine learning models in combination with physics based and experience based models — -when sufficient historic data is not available — -can estimate impacts and recovery times following different hazards much faster, more accurately and do so at scale. This scalability allows for impacts on the broader community as well as impacts to supply chains dispersed over regional and international boundaries to be considered, thus providing the most holistic understanding of vulnerability possible.

Critical infrastructure leaders, including those responsible for the world’s airports, should be actively monitoring for new solutions to identify those that can support their efforts. Partnering with academic researchers and developers of new technology in support of studies such as this is an imperative to ensure the accuracy and usefulness of research and technology solutions developed. Early adoption of innovative solutions (which require real-world practical use for additional development) are key to the common mission: reducing vulnerabilities and achieving resilience.


2. The Economic and Social Benefits of Air Transport. Air Transport Action Group. N.D. Retrieved from:


4. Salter, M. (Ed.). (2008). Politics at the Airport. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

5. Effects of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Civil Aviation: Economic Impact Analysis. ICAO Air Transport Bureau. 14 January 2021. Retrieved from:



8. Abdussamet Polater Erzincan Binali Yıldırım University, Yalnızbag Yerleskesi, Ali Cavit Çelebioğlu, Sivil Havacılık Yüksekokulu, Erzincan, Turkey. Managing airports in non-aviation related disasters: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction Volume 31, October 2018, Pages 367–380

9. A noteworthy example is the story of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport following Hurricane Katrina, which is briefly detailed within this document but readers should explore this experience through additional reading to understand the critical role that facility provided during a catastrophic event, despite itself being directly impacted.

10. Oxley, D. & J. Chaitan. Global Air Passenger Markets: Riding Out Periods of Turbulence. The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report. 2015. Retrieved from:

11. Using HAZUS-MH for Risk Assessment: How To Guide. FEMA. August 2004. Retrieved from:

12. David J. Fazio and Jennifer B. Sharpe. Flood of September 13–16, 2008, in Northeastern Illinois. U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia: 2012












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