Deccan Chronicle

So, let's talk green: Rising temperature and grounded aircraft

Deccan Chronicle| C B Ramkumar

Published on: August 11, 2017 | Updated on: August 11, 2017

When temperatures rise, the air warms and the air spreads out.

Representational image

Representational image

The end of World War 2 saw an era of world peace that has lasted until now. The United Nations was formed in 1945 to promote international co-operation and maintain international order. It replaced the ineffective League of Nations, in order to prevent another such conflict like the World War's. Along with peace in the world came the rise in industrial production. 

While we are all enjoying the benefits of the industrial revolution today, with it also came the massive burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas to produce electricity that powered the industries. All the carbon emissions by industries and electricity plants has resulted in the greenhouse gas effect, where the atmospheric layer thickened to an extent when more and more radiation from the sun was trapped within the earth. This in turn resulted in climate change events which we are suffering today in the form of extreme weather events. 

While the rising temperatures because of global warming has resulted in massive floods and intense droughts, it has had another effect that has not been contemplated and researched until now - and this has to do with aircrafts. The airline industry has been a target for climate advocates for a long time for the massive amount of carbon it emits. But now its woes have worsened on another aspect of global warming, and this has to do with its technical functioning. 

According to a study done by Columbia University, which is the first such global analysis, published in the journal Climatic Change, rising temperatures due to global warming will make it harder for many aircraft around the world to take off in coming decades. During the hottest parts of the day, 10%-30% of some fully loaded planes may have to shed its weight by as much as 4% on the hottest days - this means roughly 12 or 13 fewer passengers on an average 160-seat craft, or reduce cargo, or wait for cooler hours to fly. "Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world," said lead author Ethan Coffel, a Columbia University PhD. student. The non-trivial costs include the major logistical and economic costs of delays and cancellations that can spread from one air hub to another.

Here is what exactly happens. When temperatures rise, the air warms and the air spreads out. When it starts to spread out, its density declines, making the air very thin. When the air is thin, the wings of an aircraft generate less lift as a plane races along a runway. Thus, depending on 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. Weight must be dumped, or else the flight delayed or cancelled. For instance, New York's LaGuardia's short runways, a Boeing 737-800 may have to offload weight half the time during the hottest days. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, who have invested heavily in aviation, have worse problems; its runways are long, but its temperatures are already very high. 

Average global temperatures have gone up nearly 1oC since the 1980's, and this may already be having an effect. In late June, American Airlines cancelled more than 40 flights out of Phoenix, Arizona, when daytime highs of nearly 120oC made it too hot for smaller regional jets to take off. Worldwide, average temperatures are expected to go up as much as another 3oC by 2100. But that is only part of the story; heat waves will probably become more prevalent, with annual maximum daily temperatures at airports worldwide projected to go up 4-8oC by 2080, according to the study. It is these heat waves that may produce the most problems. While some effects could be mitigated with new engine or body designs, or expanded runways, all these modifications would come at a cost, in an industry that is already struggling with wafer thin margins. Airlines need to incorporate climate change issues into mid- and long-range plans, to effectively adapt. 

If we continue to burn fossil fuels and emit carbon at the same rate we are doing now, soon we are likely to see aircrafts grounded at airfields, because it is too hot to take off. We know we must change! So, let us all make a low carbon impact choices in our daily life, to reduce the carbon impact on the planet. Or else let's plan to take trains for our travels!! 

About The Author

The writer is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, an entrepreneur and an expert in applied sustainability. Visit:

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