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Ricardo's climate action plan: A blueprint for airport climate resilience

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is responsible for 11 regional airports providing lifeline services to some of Scotland’s remotest communities across the Highlands and Islands.

Ricardo worked with HIAL in early 2023 to produce a bespoke tool that is being used to assess climate risk on the airports operations and make well-informed, strategic decisions on how to mitigate that risk. Supporting HIAL were Ricardo’s leading global climate adaptation and aviation specialists.  

The bespoke tool is part of HIAL’s first ever Climate Change Adaptation  risk assessment incorporating a climate vulnerability and risk assessment, which assessed HIAL’s climate-related physical risks within each airports operations, across the local infrastructure, and the businesses strategic functions. The tool is now embedded within HIAL’s operational risk management processes. 

The aim of the project was to understand current and future climate-related risks, and identifying mitigations and further adaptation actions and investments.


Across the globe, the aviation industry is highly sensitive to climate-related hazards and resultant climate vulnerabilities and risks have the potential to cause severe disruption to airport operations, delays for passengers, and ultimately, reductions in the safety of air travel.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report states that countries nationally determined contributions (NDCs) make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century, with every additional increment of global warming increasing the severity of extreme events.  

As HIAL’s airports provide a lifeline service to individuals, communities and businesses across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, it is essential for HIAL to ensure that its operations, infrastructure, and strategic functions are resilient to climate variability and change. Lives depend on it.

Our Approach

Climate change adaptation

The HIAL team needed a tool  rather than a documented report to sit on a shelf, and we worked together closely to develop something tailored for HIAL’s needs.

There was a need to create something that would aid in decision-making whilst being aligned with HIAL’s internal risk management process. It’s important that the tool can be easily updated for any future risk assessments, for example , one of HIAL’s airports had a few floodings where car parks and terminal building were damaged, resulting in food contamination into the local water course and additional cleaning work for their employees.

This tool that has subsequently aided decision-making and planning for climate-related hazards and can be easily reviewed and updated as necessary.

The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) systematically establishes and interacts ratings of the components of climate risks in accordance with the IPCC’s definitions of terms.

Climate sensitivities and associated adaptive capacities were rated in order to rate climate vulnerabilities. The magnitude and frequency of exposure of climate vulnerabilities to climate-related hazards was then rated to determine the scale of potential climate impacts and in combination with their likelihood resulted in ratings of climate risks.  

Ricardo vulnerability and risk assesment - aviation
Speak with our airports and aviation specialists by emailing: enquiry-ee@ricardo.com Climate risk assesment - Airports
Ricardo led two workshops with airport managers from each of HIAL’s regional airports and key HIAL staff to identify and validate climate vulnerabilities, risks and adaptation options additional to relevant existing control measures.  Some of the initiatives implemented soon after the workshops by the airport managers include:
  • Updated risk assessment process
  • Increased understanding of terminal buildings and HSE for employees
  • Raised electrical sockets
  • Invested in more PPE for employees
  • Increased flood defences by local rivers to stop contamination
  • Across the HIAL group they now have a built-in step of any project, looking at climate risk in any project that is being taken forward
  • Forward looking at future opportunities that climate change is presenting (evaluating rainwater harvesting across the airports). 


To ensure that HIAL’s climate change adaptation response remains effective further actions were agreed for implementation:
  • Responsibilities are assigned for all identified climate risks, which should be incorporated into HIAL airports’ existing risk registers
  • The climate risk register is reviewed annually to check that the existing and future control measures (i.e. adaptation actions) are implemented, the climate risks are regularly reassessed and any additional climate risks are included in the register
  • The annual review of climate risks pays due heed to the latest climate science to ensure that existing and future control measures are appropriate
  • External stakeholders to the airport and aviation industry continue to be consulted to share best practices regarding climate risk assessment, adaptation, and resilience.
The summary report is complemented by a supplementary document detailing individual regional airport risks following the standard DEFRA airport climate change risk assessment, which is being revised. You can find the full report here.
Our aviation experts can support your airport and airline with your sustainability journey to jet zero. We can provide support and expertise in the following areas:


Highland and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL)

Key Services

Climate Change Adaptation

Start date



United Kingdom

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