Climate change spells turbulent times ahead for air travel

From rising temperatures preventing take-off to rising seas flooding runways

(photo- Last year the air in Pheonix, US was too hot for planes to take off as temperatures rose above 48C. Photograph: Matt York/AP)

From rising temperatures preventing take-off to rising seas flooding runways, aviation needs to adapt to changes already grounding flights around the world

Phoenix gets hot. But not usually as hot as last June, when the mercury at the airport one day soared above 48C. That exceeded the maximum operating temperature for several aircraft ready for take-off. They didn’t fly. More than 50 flights were cancelled or rerouted.

Thanks to climate change, soon 48C may not seem so unusual. Welcome to the precarious future of aviation in a changing climate. As the world warms and weather becomes more extreme, aircraft designers, airport planners and pilots must all respond, both in the air and on the ground. With about 100,000 flights worldwide carrying eight million passengers every day, this is a big deal.

Why is heat a problem for planes? In a word: lift.

Lift is the upward force created by diverting air around wings as an aircraft moves down the runway. It is harder to achieve when the air is scorching hot, because hot air is thinner than cold air. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) warned in 2016 that as a result, higher temperatures “could have severe consequences for aircraft take-off performance.”

Aircraft will need to jettison passengers, cargo or fuel to get the same lift on a hot day, raising costs and requiring more flights.

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