According to a recent report, at least two dozen airports in the US will experience flooding by 2050 if mitigation efforts are not undertaken.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 at Key West Airport
Photo: Markus Mainka | Shutterstock

A non-profit think tank known as the Brookings Institute recently released a report claiming that rising sea levels will affect over two dozen US airports in the coming decades. With sea levels predicted to rise over the following few decades, experts fear that several airports will be affected as their runways may become flooded by seawater, rendering them useless. If sea levels continue to rise as predicted, roughly 20% of all passenger air transit routes will be affected. While various parties are working to combat climate change, the report warns many US airports to make the necessary adjustments before it is too late.

Affected airports

According to The Weather Channel, sea levels around the US are predicted to rise between eight and 18 inches by 2050. To many, the thought of the ocean rising by one to two feet does not seem like a big deal. At first glance, an increase of two feet may not seem very significant; however, with high tide, the water will proceed much farther inland and continuously erode shorelines around the US.

American Airlines Airplane at LaGuardia Airport

Photo: EQRoy | Shutterstock

Many airports around the country have been placed on the US coastline, only a few feet above sea level. These airports will likely see continued erosion and flooding during high tide as the sea level continues to rise. In the report, the institute stated that LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Key West International Airport (EYW), Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), Oakland International Airport (OAK), and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) are the airports servicing commercial operations that are most at risk.

The report mentioned that 24 airports across the US would be affected negatively by flooding if the sea level rose by one foot. In the predicted one-foot rise in sea level scenario, all 24 airports would have some part of the airfield, including runways, flooded during high tide. Since no major airline in the US operates seaplanes, this will undoubtedly hinder operations at these airports. While most of the major airports that would be affected by this have more than one runway losing a runway every time the tide is in is not exactly good for business. It would also be quite likely that within only a few years of the ocean reaching the airport, the entire airfield would be covered in water for parts of the day.

Mitigation efforts

Select airports along the US coastline recognize the impending hazard and would like to mitigate the risk of flooding. However, these airports face several challenges. Firstly, most of these coastal airports are limited in terms of land. They are usually in a metropolitan area and do not have extra space to build onto the airfield. Another challenge is money. Creating an additional runway would take a considerable amount of money, especially if the airport needed to acquire more land in an already overpriced and overcrowded area.

Delta Air Lines Airbus A220

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Another option these airports have instead of expanding the airfield would be creating sea barriers designed to keep the airport from flooding. These would likely work but only for so long. They would also be expensive to build and would not fix the problem. The surest way to avoid coastal flooding would be to relocate the airfield further inland. For the aforementioned reasons, this would be incredibly difficult. For now, these coastal airports will likely stay where they are until it is too late to mitigate the issue. When that happens, major airports may be built further inland to replace their coastal counterparts, or satellite airports would likely grow considerably.

What do you think of this report? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: The Weather Channel, Weather Underground

  • 51759433676_3c69f92b6b_o (1)

    LaGuardia Airport

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    United States

    Stewart Steeves

    Passenger Count :
    8,245,192 (2020)

    Runways :
    04/22 – 2,134m (7,001ft) |13/31 – 2,135m (7,003ft)

    Terminal A |Terminal B |Terminal C |Terminal D

  • GettyImages-1175364447

    Photo: Getty Images

    San Francisco International Airport

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    United States

    Ivar C. Satero

    Passenger Count :
    16,427,801 (2020)

    Runways :
    10L/28R – 3,618m (11,870ft) |10R/28L – 3,469m (11,381ft) |1R/19L – 2,637m (8,650ft) |1L/19R – 2,332m (7,650ft)

    Harvey Milk Terminal 1 |Terminal 2 |Terminal 3 |International Terminal


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