Sea Level Rise and New York-area Airports: Opportunities and Challenges

Objective

Based on engineering and economic analysis, evaluate the cost of sea level rise to airports in the New York metropolitan region. Prepare a report that recommends and evaluates adaptation strategies including engineering investments, airport relocation, and a shift to Stewart International—a report that potentially could be of interest to the Port Authority of NJ and NY, the NYC Mayor’s Office, and the Governors of NJ and NY.

Background

The New York Metropolitan Region’s airports serve hundreds of millions of passengers each year. LaGuardia Airport (LGA), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) are the largest airports serving the region. Teterboro (TEB) serves general aviation needs, and Stewart International (SWF) continues to grow with recently-introduced flights to Ireland and the U.K. with Norwegian Air. The region’s airports also serve as the hub for all three American airlines. New York’s airports are of vital importance to the region’s economy and provide connectivity for both residents in the regions as well as transiting passengers. For many travelers, it is their first sight of the United States.

At the same time, the region is expected to face unprecedented effects of climate change.  By the end of the century, the region is expected to see up to a three-foot rise in sea levels. LaGuardia and Teterboro airports are expected to be permanently flooded or inundated. Newark and JFK would face difficulties in the event of more severe storm surges (RPA 2016). Given these dire forecasts, how can the region’s airports best prepare for sea level rise? What is the expected damage to the region’s airport infrastructure under various climate scenarios? What are the feasible planning strategies that can minimize disruption to the northeastern valve of American aviation? This report seeks to (1) understand expected costs as a result of projected sea level rise impacting the region’s airports; and (2) evaluate and recommend adaptation strategies. Some viable options for adapting aviation infrastructure may involve investing in levees, relocating airports, or shifting air traffic to SWF with companion transit expansion. However, a comprehensive assessment and recommendation have yet to be seen.

Suggested Approaches

  1. Understand the science and projections of sea level rise in the region. Create visualizations of sea level rise scenarios for NYC-region airports using NOAA Digital Coast, QGIS, and CartoDB.
  2. For various sea level rise scenarios, calculate expected damages. This will involve both engineering and economic cost evaluations, including disruptions to air passenger demand, air sector labor, complementary industries, and substitutions.
  3. Develop several feasible strategies for adaptation and provide cost-benefit analysis for each strategy. Provide recommendations on priorities and further research.

Pre-requisities/Ideal Team

The ideal team would be comprised of team members of mixed backgrounds: someone with architecture or civil engineering background; someone with social science training (e.g., high marks in economics); someone with a planning and policy background—in particular with experience reaching out to city officials (most ideal: experience with Port Authority or airlines).

Recommended Reading

Regional Plan Association (2016). Under Water: How Sea Level Rise Threatens the Tri-State Region. In: A Report of The Fourth Regional Plan, December 2016.