Hot weather to put flights at risk

Geronimo Vena
Luglio 14, 2017

RISING temperatures due to global warming will make it harder for aircraft to take off in coming decades, a USA study warned yesterday. For a given runway or aircraft there is a temperature threshold above which an aircraft can not take off at its maximum weight, requiring a weight restriction - removing passengers, cargo or fuel.

"In thinner air, wings generate less lift as a plane races along the runway".

"Weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world", said Ethan Coffel, lead author and a Columbia University PhD student.

Thus, depending upon the aircraft model, runway length and other factors, at some point a packed plane may be unable to take off safely if the temperature gets too high.

New research published in Climatic Change shows that, as temperatures around the world increase, and as heat waves occur with more frequency, airlines will be confronted with this problem on the regular.

As noted in the study, average global temperatures have risen by almost 1C since 1980, and they're expected to go up another 3C by 2100 if emissions continue to grow unchecked. The study projected annual maximum daily temperatures at airports worldwide to rise four to eight degrees C (7.2 to 14.4 F) by 2080. And it's these heat waves, the researchers say, that will likely produce the most problems.

To understand the difficulties of future flights in a warming world, Coffel's team used pre-existing climate models, and observations from the NOAA-NCEI Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN).

The researchers estimate that if globe-warming emission continues unabated, fuel capacities and payload weights will have to be reduced by as much as four per cent on the hottest days for some aircrafts.

For an average aircraft operating on a day, four per cent weight reduction would mean roughly 12 or 13 fewer passengers less on an average 160-seat craft.

Airports which would be in danger in those cases include New York's LaGuardia, which has short runways.

Co-author and Columbia climatologist Radley Horton said some effects could be mitigated with new engine or body designs, or expanded runways. We also need to start fixing this thing that is climate change.

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