The planes of the future: on the ground due to climate change

Even today, heat waves make the take offs more difficult, but it will be worse: they will need longer runways, weight restrictions on luggage, and perhaps even leave somebody on the ground.

An example over the past few weeks, temperatures up to 49 ° C and air rarefaction have caused the suspension of dozens of flights to Phoenix (Arizona).

Air transport is responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions (12% of emissions from the transport sector): it makes a significant contribution to global warming and, at the same time, is one of the most affected sectors.

THE PROBLEM IS TO START. Past studies have already highlighted that with rising temperatures we will have to endure more turbulent flights and delays due to longer, obstructed winds. Now a new study focuses on the take-off issue: heat waves such as those characterizing the summer 2017 make it harder to lift an aircraft off the ground.

According to Columbia University’s Climate Change report, by the middle of the century 10-30% of all flights departing during the hottest hours of the day will require some weight restriction outside of the rules currently set.

AIR THAT “Doesn’t hold”. Like any fluid, even the air when it warms expands, and its density decreases. This also reduces the lift, the lifting force exerted by the air on the wing of the aircraft, necessary to support it in flight. Lower bearing means less weight lifting – so less passengers, or less luggage – but also longer take-off runs, not available everywhere.

FROM CUSTOMERS TO WEIGHTS. Researchers have used current climate models to predict the possibility of heat waves on 19 major airports in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and China in a period between 2060 and 2080 (the study is an expansion of a Previous one, which considered only 4 major American airports). For some international, low-altitude and temperate regions such as John F. Kennedy of New York, Heathrow in London or Charles de Gaulle in Paris, the impact will be minimal.

But at sloping airports such as La Guardia (New York), on warmer days a Boeing 737-800 might have to give up on loads in more than half of the cases. According to the study, weight restrictions could range between 0.5 and 4% of the total load of a 160-seat aircraft. It means leaving 3 to 13 passengers on the ground.