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​Air transportation – the critical infrastructure when disaster strikes

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture
Relief supplies being unloaded from a New Zealand C-130 at the airport in
Tuvalu after Cyclone Pam struck some outer islands. Photo: Nora Weisskopf

When disaster strikes, air transport is often the only feasible mode of transportation for first responders and urgently needed relief supplies. Following an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, most roads, rail tracks and even ports become unusable, as they are blocked for days by debris. Airports, on the other hand, are remarkably sustainable and, within hours, usually become operational again.  

The main reason of this sustainability is that runways are on open space where debris of a disaster can be removed quickly. Furthermore, a runway usually suffers remarkable little damage even by a strong earthquake, such as experienced last week in Nepal or in Haiti in 2010. And even if there are cracks and holes in the runway, modern relief aircraft like C-130s can operate safely for some time.
 
Kathmandu Airport: Already crowded
before the earthquake. 
​Photo: Charles Schlumberger

However, the challenges of operating relief flights can quickly become overwhelming, especially for airports in developing countries that usually experience only moderate traffic. In Haiti, for example, more than 74 aircraft landed on a single day following the earthquake to unload supplies. Such traffic poses risks in the air; air traffic control, often hampered by inadequate or damaged surveillance installations, can’t cope managing all arriving aircraft. On the ground, where tarmac and taxiways are small, congestion quickly reigns which prevents the arrival of more flights.

​Open skies over the Middle East

Russell Hillberry's picture
Thirty years ago, most international travel was routed through national “gateway” airports in cities like New York, London or Tokyo.  Someone travelling between secondary cities such as Atlanta and Manchester would typically make two plane changes en route.  Due in part to changes in international aviation policies, travelers from those same secondary cities now have direct flights to many more international locations.
 

Air Traffic Surveillance – How can a Boeing 777 vanish without a trace?

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture
Nearly two weeks ago, a Boeing B777-200 of the Malaysian flag carrier Malaysia Airlines vanished with no trace. Flight MH370, the regular daily flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, carried 239 persons on board and was under the command of a highly experienced crew. The flight never reached its destination, and an unprecedented search for the overdue aircraft was launched. Initially the search concentrated on an area in the South China Sea where the last position was received. However, the search area was progressively enhanced covering the Bay of Bengal, large parts of the Indian Ocean, and several territories over China and Central Asia. NASA was involved to scan the earth surface analyzing every object over 30 meters, and even the public at large is invited to analyze satellite data on the internet.
 
Was the aircraft victim of an accident or was its disappearance a result of terrorism? Was it shot down, hijacked by intruders or the crew, did it ditch and sink rapidly as a consequence, or did it land successfully at one of the 634 runways on its theoretical pathways suitable for  a B777 to be stowed away and held for ransom? We might not know the answer to these disturbing questions for months and years to come. However, the travelling public is astonished to learn that the B777 of flight MH370 was not under active surveillance. How can it be that in times where anybody can be located homing on a cell phone a commercial airliner just gets lost?

Of Runways and Playgrounds

Nora Weisskopf's picture
Touchdown on the runway at Funafuti Airport in Tuvalu. The ATR-42 that brought us here from Nadi in Fiji slowly rolls toward the apron and as we step off the plane we are greeted by what seems to be a Welcome Committee for the plane’s arrival. With only two flights a week, the excitement of airplanes landing and departing has clearly not worn off yet – from grandmothers to playing children, young men on

General Aviation and Disaster Relief

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture

When a disaster strikes, such as a hurricane or a major earthquake, relief efforts are often hampered by destroyed or damaged ground infrastructure, mostly roads, bridges, and railway networks. In the days following such a disaster, relief efforts hinge on air transport capacity, which only depends on a clear runway or landing sites for helicopters. First responders, who focus on saving lives, are primarily aviation units of the armed forces or law enforcement.

Air Transportation – Quo Vadis?

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture

For several years, the World Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the air transport industry met annually at a conference discussing issues concerning the air transport sector. The conclusions of these conferences are important as they guide the Bank’s aviation development agenda.

How to address the climate change challenge in transport projects?

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture

One example discussed in a recent event held at World Bank offices in Washington DC concerned an innovative technology solution in the aviation sector, which could reduce global CO2 emissions by 14 million tons!

Learning about Airports

Chris Bennett's picture

The World Bank employs a variety of specialists in different disciplines, often with abstract and hard to understand titles. Not me. When people ask what I do for the Bank I say “I build roads”. This often brings laughs from other Bank staff, but it’s true.