The Herman Trend Alert
June 29, 2016
Climate Blasting Air Travel
Unfortunately, few people are thinking ahead about the far-reaching effects of climate change on air travel. A recent heat wave in the southwestern United States has raised our consciousness about another effect of these climate shifts---the worldwide effect of increasing ground temperatures. These temperatures have been wreaking havoc by creating wildfires, having an impact on airline schedules, and may potentially ground planes.
Nothing new for the Middle East
For many years now, airlines have scheduled most flights in and out of countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Turkey at night or early morning.
Climate warming is here
According to the University of Alabama at Huntsville's ongoing climate studies, the Global Composite Temperature for April was +1.3 F or about +0.72 C above the 30-year average--- consistent with what we have been seeing for the last few years. One degree can make a difference between a plane being able to take off/land or not.
A record-breaking heatwave with sky-high temperatures
During this summer millions of people in the American Southwest will be affected by a severe heatwave, with accompanying temperatures upwards of 120 degrees F. Already, four people have died. In the last week, at least one plane was unable to land in Phoenix, because the temperature was simply too high.
No end to the heat in sight
Moreover, temperatures are forecast to climb even higher, so we're likely to see an even greater interference with air travel throughout the coming months---at least in the US.
The physics of hot weather and planes
As heat warms the air, it becomes thinner; this thinner air doesn't have the same (or sometimes enough) density to give the plane enough lift to take off or land. Heat also severely limits the plane's ability to climb properly; plus, the heavier the aircraft—the more people and baggage on it---the more compromised it becomes. Bottomline: the higher the air temperature, the thinner the air, and therefore, the more challenging for a pilot to safely takeoff or land.
Specifically, how hot is too hot?
The answer is, "It depends on the aircraft". However, generally, any temperature higher than 104 degrees F is cause for concern. Smaller regional planes (typically, Embraers and Bombardiers) are certified to handle up to 118 degrees F; interestingly, for larger aircraft, the operational temperatures are up to above 125 degrees F.
What the future holds
With temperatures expected to climb during the summer, we may see more airlines canceling or rerouting flights to play it safe; as an alternative, more pilots may opt to take fewer passengers or less luggage to compensate for the heat---another reason to carry on your luggage. In the long-term, our forecast is that we, in North and Central America, will follow the Middle East's lead and schedule fewer flights during the hottest daytime hours. More attention is needed to all of the effects of climate change. Wake-up, airline executives, it's time to start planning ahead!
Special thanks to Conde Nast Traveler and The Associated Press for their coverage of this important topic.
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