By Gaspard Peña Verrier
Climate change may make it harder for planes to take off, and could ultimately result in higher ticket prices, and less baggage allowance for passengers, according to a recent study by researchers from Columbia University. The problems for aircraft come as air temperatures rise, and many parts of the world experience an increase in both the frequency and intensity of heatwaves.
The research suggests that, due to the density of air declining as air temperature rises, higher temperatures will make it more difficult for aircraft to take off. To compensate for this, aircraft may need to generate more speed on the runway, weigh less, or both. Some airports are likely to face more difficulties than others in compensating for this issue – for example, those with shorter runways, in warm climates, or at high elevation where air is naturally less dense.
Currently, the primary method of coping with extreme temperatures in the commercial airline industry is to impose weight restrictions. However, the industry may want to find a more permanent solution. Possible adaptation measures include: increasing engine power (although this risks increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which would constitute mal-adaptation), and lengthening runways, which is not always possible due to space constraints.
The study’s conclusion is that climate change is most likely to result in tightening weight restrictions, which implies fewer passengers per flight for between ten and fifty days annually in most places by 2080. The likely upshot of such restrictions would be higher prices for passengers.
Gaspard Peña Verrier is studying for a double-degree at Masters in electrical engineering from CentraleSupélec and industrial economics from Paris Dauphine, France. He then plans to devote his time and skills to facilitating the transition to clean energy, either working on network design or financial regulation. Gaspard was last year president of his university’s student-led consulting firm and he has held several intern positions in analytics in the banking industry.