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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.

Bhutan: Connectivity in the Cloud(s)

Charles Kunaka's picture

Bhutan has some of the most thrilling rides in the world—in the air and on the ground.
 
Flying into Paro Airport, the only international airport in Bhutan, is an experience like none other—its narrow runway tucked between rugged 18,000-foot peaks, high in the Himalayas. Below, the road between Thimphu, the capital, and the border city of Phuentsholing twists and turns as it navigates some of the world’s highest mountain passes, often blanketed in fog with visibility reduced to mere meters. On clear days, both offer some of the most stunning, breathtaking views you will ever see.
 
But stunning peaks do not make for easy trade routes, and this is a problem in Bhutan. That’s why the World Bank’s International Trade Unit teamed up with the South Asia Transport Unit to conduct a diagnostic of impediments to transport and trade facilitation in Bhutan.  The diagnostic, a prelude to a potential investment operation, was based on the recently released Trade and Transport Corridor Management Toolkit.