Victims of Global Warming or Culprits?

The world is getting hotter. Earlier this year Shanghai’s highest temperature reached a record high 41 degrees, while in Hongqiao and Pudong Airports, the surface temperature approached 70 degrees. It is like this in the most part of Europe, and rising temperatures will make more trouble for our airlines.

A study by Columbia University researchers showed that the temperature rise caused by global warming may make it more difficult for aircraft to take off and land. It is predicted that by 2050, in the highest temperature of the day, 30% of flights globally will not complete take off with maximum weight.


Higher temperature will lead to lower air density, and the principle of aircraft take-off depends on the difference in air pressure between the wings to generate power. So as the high temperature causes the ground air to be too thin, the aircraft will not be able to produce enough pressure to take off without reducing the weight of the aircraft itself or waiting for cooler weather, which usually means that the flight will be delayed or cancelled.

Flight delays make passengers crazy and annoying, but also the airlines pay the price. A survey in 2016 showed that airlines lost as much as $25 billion as a result of delays on a global scale, including the cost of aircraft downtime, the cost of compensation and travel arrangements for travellers, as well as the fuel costs incurred when aircraft are holding in the air.

Columbia University’s report also points out that, on average, if the plane wants to take off during the hottest hours, the aircraft must reduce its own total weight by 4%. It means that an ordinary 160-seat aircraft must be reduced by 12 seats, which is very unfavourable news for those airlines who make a meagre profit and also will compress the limited profit margins further.

In addition, the runway is also a problem. If the temperature is too high, causing the air to be too thin, the aircraft needs longer run time, which also poses a challenge to airports’ infrastructure. If the airport is located in areas of high altitude, then the impact of climate warming will be greater.


According to a New York Times’ report, although the altitude of New York LaGuardia Airport is almost zero, the runway is very short, which has forced many aircraft to reduce their take-off weight- no matter how the weather is. For example, if a Boeing 737 takes off successfully from LaGuardia Airport, the maximum load must be reduced by 1,000 pounds. As the weather becomes hotter , the more limits they have. When the temperature reaches 32 degrees Celsius, the weight needs to be reduced by 15,000 pounds.


Besides that, other studies also believe that climate warming may lead to more bumpy air and upwind, thus it will extend the flight time and increase fuel burn.

In 2015, Radley Horton, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth mentioned that according to the data, it is uncertain how airlines would be affected by global warming in the future, but all hope is not lost. Enhancing the performance of the engine or extending the runway so that the aircraft have enough power to take off, offsets the negative effects of the temperature rise.

It seems that airlines are the victims of global warming, but in fact, the global aviation industry's carbon dioxide emissions account for 2% of the world’s total. With the further development of the international aviation industry, this ratio may also continue to increase. Airlines also need to be more responsible for environmental protection, in the long run. This is to help themselves.

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