Quantcast

Too Hot to Fly: Heat Waves to Prevent Airplanes From Taking Off

Climate
www.youtube.com

By Tim Radford

U.S. scientists have just added a new dimension of horror to the modern airport experience: global warming could take heat wave temperatures to the point where it becomes simply too hot to fly.

And as the mercury rises, those aircraft that are cleared for takeoff may have been forced to take off a dozen protesting passengers, to lighten the load and get the rest of them safely off the ground.


Aircraft now contribute an estimated two percent to the greenhouse gas emissions that generate global warming. In the course of 2016, according to the World Bank, 3.7 billion people took flights, so even a small percentage of disruptions could affect huge numbers and keep them, fuming with impatience, in the flight lounges.

According to researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, disruption is on the way.

Offloads needed

They report in the journal Climatic Change that, if humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an accelerating rate, and as average global temperatures creep up by the predicted 4°C above historic levels, then on the hottest days, between 10 percent and 30 percent of fully-loaded planes may have to remove fuel, cargo or passengers before they can take off: either that, or flights will have to be delayed to the cooler hours.

This is not the only problem that global warming and associated climate change will deliver to the airlines. Other researchers have warned more than once that as temperatures rise, so will the challenge of clear air turbulence.

But passengers won't just have to keep their seat belts locked—they may have to stay locked in for longer, as jet stream wind patterns change. Other research teams have found that slower progress against headwinds will mean dramatic increases in fuel demands.

Too heavy

But the Columbia team may be the first to have thought about the problems that warming will bring to the airport tarmac. Warmer air means thinner air. As the air thins, wings generate less lift as the plane accelerates along the runway. If the temperature gets too high, the plane may be too heavy to take off at all.

Average global temperatures have increased by almost 1°C since 1980. Late in June, American Airlines cancelled more than 40 flights out of Phoenix, Arizona as daytime temperatures inched up to 48°C.

And heat waves are expected to become more frequent, more prolonged and more intense with global warming. By 2100, temperatures on airport runways could have reached 4°C to 8°C higher than they are now.

The Columbia scientists considered the performances of five Boeing and Airbus commercial aircraft, and 19 major airports, and then worked with projections of future climate change to see how this would affect air traffic.

They found that tomorrow's aircraft would have to lose weight to gain altitude: up to four percent. For an aircraft of 160 seats, this would mean the loss of 12 or 13 passengers.

"Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world," said Ethan Coffel, a Columbia University doctoral student. "The sooner climate can be incorporated into mid- and long-range plans, the more effective adaptation efforts can be."

And his co-author Radley Horton, a climatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said, "This points to the unexplored risks of changing climate on aviation.

"As the world gets more connected and aviation grows, there may be substantial potential for cascading effects, economic and otherwise."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less
A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

Read More Show Less
Pope Francis flanked by representatives of the Amazon Rainforest's ethnic groups and catholic prelates march in procession during the opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region at The Vatican on Oct. 07 in Vatican City, Vatican. Alessandra Benedetti / Corbis News / Getty Images

By Vincent J. Miller

The Catholic Church "hears the cry" of the Amazon and its peoples. That's the message Pope Francis hopes to send at the Synod of the Amazon, a three-week meeting at the Vatican that ends Oct. 27.

Read More Show Less