Climate change could mean longer take-off times and fewer passengers per aircraft
The Royal Society, Natural Environment Research Council, Leverhulme Trust, and Heathrow Airport have awarded Paul D. Williams funding.
Guy Gratton does not work for or consult with, have shares in, or receive money from any organization or company that could profit from this piece and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations other than their academic one.
The link between your next plane flight and climate change should be evident. The more planes that emit carbon dioxide will cause more significant global warming. This is easy, But there’s a second perspective that you might have yet to consider.
The local climates at airports across the globe have changed over the past couple of years, and the conditions pilots have relied upon to launch in safety have also changed. Our latest research indicates that warmer temperatures and less powerful winds make taking off more difficult. In the long term, this implies that airlines can deliver smaller numbers of passengers and cargo an equivalent amount of gas.
Research suggests that the distances to take off will increase as temperatures rise. This is because warmer temperatures decrease the density of air, which engines and wings require to fly. To avoid headwinds, planes also need more ground speed to pass.
Run-out of runway
We’ve been keeping track of the weather at the ten Greek airports since. We calculated the average wind speed and minimum temperatures for the night each year and plugged them into performance graphs. These graphs are used to calculate the safe runway lengths and airplane weights required to ensure that airlines can transport their passengers safely.
The temperature changes were different across the airports that we studied, with a difference between a 2degC and 5degC rise in temperature during the 62 years we were able to collect data on. So did the wind. In some airports, the speed at which the wind traveled along the runway to the aircraft as it took off (known as headwinds) increased by around 25 percent. In the opposite direction, an airport saw average headwinds on its runway drop to 90% in 43 years.
We found that in each instance, the conditions have changed over the last 62 years, making airplane take-offs more difficult. Safety regulations ensure that aircraft can only take off with enough runway. However, on the long runways we looked at, distances needed to launch the large jet plane in the air had increased by approximately 1.5 per decade and by about 1 percent for a less compact turboprop aircraft.
It is a Boeing 737 that is used for research at Cranfield University. Smaller aircraft like these are the majority of smaller airports and are most likely to be the most affected by climate change. Guy Gratton, Author provided
In airports with runways that are shorter, the aircraft must reduce weight. This is done before take-off, and the number of passengers, cargo, and fuel load are adjusted in line with. In the extreme scenario, we examined, planes took off with only one passenger (or approximately 40 kilometers of fuel) every year. The aircraft are not climbing as rapidly after taking off, causing more significant noise pollution and a general nuisance.
This study was conducted in Greece; other international studies have discovered similar patterns worldwide. Small airports, such as those located on the islands of Scotland and within the Caribbean, are most likely to be affected as the changing climate continues.
Airlines must reduce the number of passengers on their flights or look for ways to extend their runways. In certain extreme situations, the possibility of being unable for aircraft of certain types to use certain airports. This is yet another reminder of how quickly and deeply human activities transform the world around us and how inadequately prepared to handle the impacts.