Saint John Airport Climate Change Resilience Strategy

In 2021, the Saint John Airport developed a Climate Change Resilience Strategy to understand the likelihood of future climate change-related events, such as flooding and changing winter conditions, and the consequences on airport infrastructure and operations. Understanding the potential impacts of climate change on the airport is important to support asset management, maintenance and infrastructure and policy-related decision-making.

To assess these risks, the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) protocol was used. Relevant climate hazards related to temperature, precipitation, winter conditions, fog, lightning, storms, and wildfires were identified. Future climate projections for 2021-2050 and 2051-2080 were compared to historical values and trends (1976-2005) for relevant climate parameters. For each climate parameter, a threshold was assigned and if a future climate projection exceeded the threshold, the infrastructure or operations were deemed vulnerable. To assess risk, scores were assigned to each climate-infrastructure interaction based on vulnerability from the thresholds and likelihood of the potential risk. Of the 109 interactions analyzed, 29 were identified as high risk, 79 were moderate, low, or negligible risk, and none were extreme risk. Recommendations were then provided to improve the resiliency of the airport. This project was supported by Transport Canada’s Transportation Asset Risk Assessment Program.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Saint John Airport in the City of Saint John, New Brunswick accommodates approximately 280,000 passengers annually. The airport is located near the Mispec River and is approximately 8 km from the Bay of Fundy. To understand and assess the potential risks of climate change on the Saint John Airport, relevant climate parameters that may affect the infrastructure and operations were identified based on interviews with airport staff, building codes, previous climate events, and scientific literature. Climate parameters included average/extreme temperature, extreme precipitation, riverine flooding, changing winter conditions, high winds and storm activity, fog events, drought events, and wildfires. Climate parameters for historical conditions (1976-2005) were compared to future projections for the short term (2021-2050) and the longer term (2051-2080) under RCP 8.5, the worst-case emission scenario. Data and climate trends were obtained from the Climate Atlas of Canada, the Climate Data Portal for a Resilient Canada, the IDF-CC Tool, and scientific literature.

Saint John will experience an increase in temperatures over time and across seasons. Average maximum temperature is expected to increase from 29.1°C to 31.2°C in the short term and up to 33.6 °C in the long term. There will also be a shift in the length and timing of the growing season which will impact vegetation maintenance and wildlife management. An increase in extreme precipitation events is projected, which may contribute to flooding of nearby rivers. An increase in winter temperatures may contribute to increased freezing rain, rain on snow, ice storms, and rapid snowmelt events, which could also exacerbate floods. More intense storms and lightning strikes are likely to increase in the region. Saint John already experiences fog events and it is expected that with sea level rise and increasing temperatures, fog events will likely increase but the magnitude of change could not be determined. Droughts were projected to decrease slightly over the short term and increase slightly over the long term which will impact water quality and quantity. Finally, wildfires in eastern Canada are likely to increase 2-to-3-fold by 2100.

Identifying Actions

To assess the vulnerability of the infrastructure and operations to climate change, airport documentation and interviews with airport staff identified 29 infrastructure components to be included in the assessment. The infrastructure components were categorized under airside systems, landside systems, airport buildings, civil infrastructure, other airport infrastructure (i.e., communications, power, fuel), and operations.

For each climate parameter, a design threshold was assigned based on staff experience and input and design codes. The threshold values for each climate parameter were compared to the corresponding historical baseline and 2021-2050 and 2051-2080 projections. If a future climate projection value exceeded the assigned threshold, the infrastructure was considered vulnerable to climate change and may face increased risk in the future.


After understanding the potential impacts of future climate trends and assigning design thresholds, a risk assessment was conducted. For every relevant climate-infrastructure interaction, a risk score was assigned for both the 2021-2050 and 2051-2080 time periods based on the vulnerability of the infrastructure and the likelihood of each potential risk. The risk assessment identified a total of 109 risks with zero extreme risks, 29 high risks, and 79 moderate, low, or negligible risks.

The highest risks were related to flooding of the runway and infrastructure from precipitation or riverine flooding of the Mispec River. Other high risks were the impacts of changing winter conditions such as freezing rain events and heavy snow loads, wind, lightning, and rain on airport operations. Most of the identified high-risk climate hazards were impactful because they would interrupt flight schedules, increase maintenance operations, and disrupt airport operations including communications, visibility, and the health and safety of staff. When comparing risks for the middle of the century and the end of the century, there was an increase in negligible, low, and high risks and a decrease in moderate risks, mainly related to cold-weather climate parameters.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

For each interaction, a recommendation was made based on if the risk required no further study, remedial action, management action, or further study. Key recommendations for the higher risks included:

  • A lightning arrestor system to lessen the risk of lightning disrupting communication systems.
  • Increasing runway length to lessen the risk of increasing temperatures reducing aircraft performance and payload range. Increasing the runway would also reduce risks related to flooding and fog-related visibility.
  • Low visibility infrastructure to lessen visibility risks related to fog.
  • Additional studies on the dynamics of the Mispec River, causes of flooding, and benefits of infrastructure or operational measures to reduce flooding such as runway drainage systems or dikes.

The assessment report also noted the difficulties in predicting the occurrence of cumulative hazards and while they weren’t included in the risk assessment, they are necessary to consider during future risk management and planning.

Next Steps

The Saint John airport will be incorporating the recommendations from this assessment during capital planning and infrastructure replacement. The recommendations will serve as part of a broader strategy to address climate change, protect the Saint John Airport operations, and increase resiliency.