In December 2022, freezing cold temperatures, precipitation, and unprecedented blizzard conditions blanketed Canadian and northern US cities with record amounts of snow, impacting tens of millions of people, including many holiday travellers. As climate change progresses, extreme weather events like these are happening more frequently and exposing vulnerabilities in the operational performance capabilities of organizations. Appropriately prepared organizations can more effectively and reliably meet the needs of their customers while operating under unpredictable, quickly evolving conditions.
At Vancouver International Airport (YVR), the December winter storms led to the cancellation and delay of more than 1,300 flights and disrupted the travel plans of over 180,000 passengers. After the disruption, YVR partnered with Arup to lead an After-Action Review, supported by Airports Council International (ACI), to identify the root cause of the event and develop an action plan to prevent a recurrence. The review, conducted by a cross-disciplinary team of Arup experts, determined the precise timeline of events and contributing causes to the 1,300 delayed or cancelled flights. The resulting action plan provided YVR with the guidance needed to better prepare for and address sudden operational disruptions, with the goal of continuing to ensure safety and improving the experiences of passengers and airport workers.
1,300 cancelled flights
5key focus areas
Evaluating impacts of the extreme winter storm
Arup’s global experience and decades-long involvement in the aviation industry, from designing and modernizing facilities to coordinating emergency operations, allowed us to bring a wide lens to evaluating the impacts of extreme weather on YVR’s operations. Arup engaged experts from our Operational Readiness Activation & Transition (ORAT) service — which provides a proven set of tools and methodologies that help our clients and their stakeholders plan and prepare thoroughly in any scenario — as well as experts from our Aviation Planning team, Risk & Resilience team, and Specialist Technology, Analysis and Research team, to do an extensive review of YVR’s situation and offer a set of recommendations for improving preparedness for irregular operations. Arup was brought on as an independent advisor and consultant to conduct a comprehensive multifaceted review to develop the YVR Report & Action Plan: December 2022 Travel Disruption. Our detailed review included establishing a timeline of environmental conditions, decisions, activities, communications, and actions; identifying impacts of events; reviewing and identifying any gaps between regulations, policies, plans, procedures, and directives applicable to the actual event and YVR’s response; identifying best practices; determining the performance and service level of staff; analyzing what worked, what did not work, and the reasons why.
The comprehensive review and action plan will ensure YVR can reliably deliver the services expected by passengers in all operating conditions. Our review found that there was not a single root cause but a combination of complex factors that came together to contribute to the operational challenges during a busy travel period. A combination of service issues such as tarmac delays, terminal congestion, irregular dissemination of information to passengers, baggage handling delays, and ineffective public communications were among the causes of the challenges experienced by passengers and airport staff.
Our partnership helped YVR highlight actions to take moving forward to mitigate future issues, demonstrate transparency to employees and customers, and to review existing systems.
At YVR, the safety of our employees, passengers, and the public is our highest priority. Safe operations are something we plan for, test, and practice regularly at YVR—including in times of adverse weather. ” Tamara Vrooman O.B.C President and Chief Executive Officer, Vancouver Airport Authority
A path forward
Arup developed a roadmap and plan with practical and definitive actions for improving the airport’s response to severe weather events, with short- and long-term recommendations. YVR chose the following five actions to implement:
- Enhance winter and irregular operations plan
- Enhance cross-team collaboration
- Accelerate investments in technology and data
- Enhance in-terminal passenger supports
- Enhance communications to passengers and public
By addressing the root causes of the service failures through these actions, the airport is now better prepared to reliably deliver the services required by passengers during future weather events and unplanned disruptions to travel.
By taking a holistic approach to operational preparedness and readiness through early planning and roadmapping, airports can intervene before extreme weather events become a crisis. YVR’s response to their extreme weather event is a good reminder to the industry to review their emergency preparedness plans against significant events to ensure flexibility of operations. ” Jane Goslett Principal
Solutions and support for the aviation industry
With the help of Arup, YVR was able to deliver the travel disruption report and action plan in a timely manner to their stakeholders.
Ineffective operational planning and testing can result in breakdowns in operational performance and lead to system and process failures, unpredictable delays, and poor customer service. With Arup’s support, organizations like YVR can be more resilient to the challenges of irregular operations.