Hot weather has forced dozens of commercial flights to be canceled at airports in the Southwest this summer. This flight-disrupting heat is a warning sign. Climate change is projected to have far-reaching repercussions – including sea level rise inundating cities and shifting weather patterns causing long-term declines in agricultural yields. And there is evidence that it is beginning to affect the takeoff performance of commercial aircraft, with potential effects on airline costs.
National and global transportation systems and the economic activity they support have been optimized for the climate in which it all developed: Machines are designed to operate in common temperature ranges, logistical plans depend on historical weather patterns and coastal land development is based on known flood zones. In the aviation sector, airports and aircraft are designed for the weather conditions experienced historically. Because the climate is changing, even fundamental infrastructure elements like airports and key economic sectors like air transportation may need to be redesigned and reengineered.
As scientists focused on the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on human society and natural ecosystems around the world, our research has quantified how extreme heat associated with our warming climate may affect flights around the world. We’ve found that major airports from New York to Dubai to Bangkok will see more frequent takeoff weight restrictions in the coming decades due to increasingly common hot temperatures.
Climate changes flights
There is robust evidence that extreme events such as heat waves and coastal flooding are happening with greater frequency and intensity than just a few decades ago. And if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next few decades, the frequency and intensity of these extremes is projected to increase dramatically.
The effects on aviation may be widespread. Many airports are built near sea level, putting them at risk of more frequent flooding as oceans rise. The frequency and intensity of air turbulence may increase in some regions due to strengthening high-altitude winds. Stronger winds would force airlines and pilots to modify flight lengths and routings, potentially increasing fuel consumption…