Are you planning to fly anywhere this summer?
If you are, let’s hope that you aren’t doing so during a heat wave. You may recall that on June 19, 2017, nearly 50 flights scheduled from Phoenix were scrubbed when the mercury reached 119 degrees. This mostly affected Bombardier regional jets, which aren’t certified to fly in temperatures above 118. Larger Boeing and Airbus aircraft were able to take off normally during that heat wave.
The extreme summer heat in Las Vegas prompted one airline to suspend service for the season and another to adjust its departure schedule and caused an undetermined number of delays and cancellations at McCarran International Airport, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Aviation challenges are among the problems that few people realized might result from climate change. The aviation industry is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because it doesn’t take much of a disturbance in the weather to cause delays and rerouted flights. “The airplanes are operating on tight schedules, and if they get behind, it can mess up the whole network,” said Ethan Coffel, lead author of a study by a team from Columbia University and Logistics Management Institute.
Long-haul flights will be particularly vulnerable since they have to carry full fuel loads, making them heavier. In some cases, 90- or 100-degree heat will be enough to prevent a plane from taking off at its maximum weight, according to Coffel.
Why? As commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith explained, hotter air is less dense than cooler air. That means planes' wings produce less lift when it's hot out, and jet engines don't perform as well.
Together, these issues mean planes are less aerodynamic, can't get as high, and must take off and land at higher speeds, which in turn requires more runway space. Many airports are in or near major cities, where finding room to extend runways is extremely difficult.
If severe heat waves related to climate change become more common in the coming years, researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have concluded that 10 percent to 30 percent of fully loaded planes may have to shed payload during the hottest parts of the day or delay flight until cooler hours.
And how about the ground crews? Heat waves can also be dangerous for these men and women, according to Reuters, since tarmac temperatures can reach 150 degrees when the air temperature climbs above 120.
Other studies have pointed to additional climate change-related challenges for airlines, including more air turbulence, increased flight times because of changes to certain jet streams, and airport flooding caused by rising sea levels.
All this adds up to yet another reason to tackle climate change--now. Most economists say that putting an honest price on carbon would be the quickest, most efficient way to make progress. We agree.