Last month, Phoenix enduring a blistering heat wave, with temperatures so high that airport officials had to cancel dozens of flights. The reason was two-fold. First off, some jet engines risk catching on fire in extreme heat. And when air gets hot, it expands and becomes less denseâ€”so an airplaneâ€™s wings canâ€™t generate enough lift to get off the ground. Planes either need to speed up during take-off or use a longer runway.
But Phoenixâ€™s flight delays arenâ€™t a one-off event. As the Earthâ€™s climate undergoes a 1 to 3 degree Celsius warming over the next half-century, extreme heat waves will hit more frequently. Some of these heat waves will hit airports with short runways. Forget about rain delays or missing flight crews. At places like Washingtonâ€™s Reagan National Airport, New Yorkâ€™s LaGuardia Airport, and Dubai International, the real trouble will come during heat waves.
During the hottest part of the day, 10 to 30 percent of planes will have to offload cargo or people, according to a new study by graduate student Ethan Coffell and climate scientist Radley Horton at Columbia University. â€œThis study shined a light on a potential vulnerability,â€ Horton says. â€œA lot of airplanes at full capacity are ill-equipped to take off on some of the worldâ€™s runways when temperatures get really high.â€
The scientists looked at five common commercial airplane modelsâ€”the Boeing 737-800, Airbus A320, Boeing 787-8, Boeing 777-300, and Airbus A380â€”and calculated how their takeoffs would be affected at 19 airports around the world, based on projected temperatures from 27 different global climate models. The runways represented the most common climates, elevations, and runway conditions at busy airports around the worldâ€”including US airports in Denver, Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami.
The good news for air travelers is that London, Paris, and JFK in New York will be able to shrug off the worst of future heat waves. But a Boeing 777-300 departing from Dubai at the time of the daily highest temperature may be weight-restricted about 55 percent of the time according to the study, which appears today in the journal Climactic Science. Because of the short runways, airplanes at Washingtonâ€™s Reagan-National (7,170 feet) and New Yorkâ€™s LaGuardia (7,000 feet) will also have to lighten their load to get off the ground. Expanding the runways probably wonâ€™t work, given that they are either sandwiched along the Potomac River or Jamaica Bay.
Heat waves arenâ€™t the only problem facing the aviation industry as the Earthâ€™s climate changes rapidly. Other scientists have calculated that severe turbulenceâ€”the kind that sends drink carts flying and sometimes even unbuckled passengersâ€”will increase over certain transatlantic routes that follow the meandering jet streams.
Paul D. Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading who published on the connection between climate change and turbulence this past year, thinks the industry needs to start dealing with climate change more aggressively. They could develop engines that produce fewer greenhouse gases, for one, as well as adapt its planes to the future world. â€œIâ€™ve yet to see a benefit of climate change to aviation,â€ Williams says. â€œAll the published studies have been about thing getting worse.â€
There are plenty of solutions out there, some more complicated than others. Flights may have to leave earlier in the day when its cooler, Horton suggests, or aircraft manufacturers may have to make planes lighter. Or engineers could step in, building some kind of special new wings that generate additional lift. Thereâ€™s one other option that probably wonâ€™t happen: leaving three or four paying customers back at the terminal in order to make the takeoff weight.
from Wired Top Stories http://ift.tt/2tLXfIP