Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A study published by Columbia University has suggested climate will disrupt future flight operations because it will be more difficult for aircraft to take off.
Climate change may hinder aircraft takeoffs in years ahead: study
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Extreme heat over the next several decades will make it more difficult for full planes to get off the ground, requiring airlines to offload fuel, cargo and at times even passengers to manage smooth takeoffs, according to a study by a research unit of Columbia University released on Thursday.
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.
“Our results suggest that weight restrictions may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world,” said Ethan Coffel, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Columbia.
The abstract of the study;
The impacts of rising temperatures on aircraft takeoff performance
Ethan D. Coffel, Terence R. Thompson, Radley M. Horton
Steadily rising mean and extreme temperatures as a result of climate change will likely impact the air transportation system over the coming decades. As air temperatures rise at constant pressure, air density declines, resulting in less lift generation by an aircraft wing at a given airspeed and potentially imposing a weight restriction on departing aircraft. This study presents a general model to project future weight restrictions across a fleet of aircraft with different takeoff weights operating at a variety of airports. We construct performance models for five common commercial aircraft and 19 major airports around the world and use projections of daily temperatures from the CMIP5 model suite under the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 emissions scenarios to calculate required hourly weight restriction. We find that on average, 10–30% of annual flights departing at the time of daily maximum temperature may require some weight restriction below their maximum takeoff weights, with mean restrictions ranging from 0.5 to 4% of total aircraft payload and fuel capacity by mid- to late century. Both mid-sized and large aircraft are affected, and airports with short runways and high temperatures, or those at high elevations, will see the largest impacts. Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world and that adaptation may be required in aircraft design, airline schedules, and/or runway lengths.
All this ignores likely advances in aircraft construction, the complete inability of climate models to forecast global temperatures, let alone regional temperatures, and the growing likelihood that climate models have grossly overestimated climate sensitivity to CO2 emissions.
But lets assume the authors of the study are right. There is an obvious solution; if aircraft are likely to be adversely affected by midday heat, avoid scheduling takeoffs for midday.