THIS summer America has experienced some of the most intense heatwaves in decades. In parts of southern Arizona the mercury has climbed to a sweltering 48°C. That has had an impact on the state’s infrastructure. Last month, a single day’s heatwave grounded dozens of planes. As global temperatures climb higher, such incidents are likely to increase.
Climate change could have a dramatic impact on aviation across the world, according to a recently released paper by a team from Columbia University and Logistics Management Institute, a consulting firm. The researchers predict that as early as the middle of the century, some 30% of flights departing during the most blistering parts of the day will not be able to take off at their maximum weight because the hotter, less dense air will not provide enough lift.
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Of the 19 airports examined, Dubai and LaGuardia in New York are expected to see some of the worst effects. During the harshest hours, some of their aeroplanes could be grounded at their full weight around half the time, according to the paper. On average, airlines may have to cut as much as 4% of passengers or cargo to get their flights into the air at the hottest parts of the day. If carriers are forced to fly emptier planes, expect customers to pick up the tab through higher prices.
The data paint a rather bleak picture, but airlines are not helpless. By taking measures such as improving engine performance, lengthening runways so aircraft can gain additional speed to get into the air and scheduling flights for cooler parts of the day, they will be able to mitigate some of the effects, says Radley Horton, one of the report’s authors. Even so, the paper is only the latest to suggest that climate change will start to become a bigger problem for airlines. Other studies have pointed to a myriad of other issues, including more air turbulence, increased flight times because of changes to certain jet streams, and airport flooding caused by rising sea levels.
Examining how climate change will affect carriers is only looking at half the picture. Mr Horton says the more pressing side is what the airline industry is doing to the climate. The aviation sector is responsible for roughly 2-4% of human-induced emissions, he estimates, and the growth in the number of people flying shows no signs of slowing. That might encourage firms, conscious of their carbon footprint, to cut back on business travel. Or perhaps the effects of climate change on air travel will have the same effect.
Climate change might prevent airlines flying full planes