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Global Warming Will Disrupt Future Air Travel

New Study shows that increasing temperatures caused by climate change are a threat to the safety and consistency of future air travel. While air travel is currently one of the fastest and efficient means of travelling all over the world, global warming may shake things up in the coming decades. According to the study, escalating temperatures are predicted to limit aircraft take-off in many parts around the world.

Findings of the study affirm that in the coming decades, the hottest days will exhibit a huge impact on plane norms. This is because about 10 to 30 percent of all loaded planes may be forced to reduce the number of passengers, cargo or even fuel to ensure safe travel. Planes may also be forced to wait for cooler hours before take off as an alternative.

The disruption of air travel is attributed to density declines that result from the rise and spread of warm air in the atmosphere. In this case, a plane may be limited to taking off because a decline in density makes the air thin, thus causing its wings to generate less lift while racing on a runway. Although other factors like the length of a runway and model of an aircraft matter, a plane may be restricted to take off when temperatures get too high. As a result, weight must be reduced to enable take off.

The latest study shows that since 1980, temperatures all over the world have increased by about 1.8 Fahrenheit (1-degree Centigrade), and could already be affecting the atmosphere. This assumption follows events that occurred in June this year where over 40 flights from Phoenix, Arizona were cancelled due to an increase in temperature to about 120 degrees. The findings project that by 2100, there will be a global increase in temperatures by about 5.4 Fahrenheit (3 degrees Centigrade). The prevalence of heat waves will also increase greatly. By 2080, the maximum daily temperatures in airports are also projected to increase by a whopping figure of 7.2 to 14.4 Fahrenheit (4 to 8 degrees Centigrade).

Radley Horton, climatologist and one of the authors of the study from Colombia University says, "As the world gets more connected and aviation grows, there may be substantial potential for cascading effects, economic and otherwise." He points out that the report identifies unknown risks of climate change on air travel.

From the study, continued global warming emissions may lead to a decrease of about 4 percent in payload weights and fuel volumes for most of the aircraft during extreme temperatures. An attempt to reduce carbon emissions by a significant amount over a short time globally would only amount to a slight 0.5 percent decrease. A four percent decrease in payload weight would lead to the reduction of passenger numbers by about 12 to 13 in an average 160-seat aircraft. This would have dire economic consequences for the aviation industry, as constant delays and flight cancellations due to increasing temperatures would also make the situation worse.

Airports in hotter regions in the world, as well as those in parts with high elevations, would be highly affected because air densities are already low.  More so, aircraft that are not designed to withstand high temperatures may be suspended or worse. For example, in extremely hot days, a Boeing 737-800 will be forced to cut down on the projected offload weight by about half. The United Arab Emirates may also experience worse take-off problems because its runways are long, yet temperatures are already very high.

Horton adds that adaptation efforts can only be achieved if climate factors are fused into both short and long-range risk mitigation strategies soon. Ethan Coffel, lead author of the study and PhD. Student at Columbia University says, "Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world,"

Despite all the hurdles that may affect the aviation industry, some aircraft can be upgraded with new engines and designs. Runways can also be expanded to increase efficiency. Nevertheless,  some airports situated in densely populated parts like New York City are limited to expansion and cannot be modified to control risk.

Many prior studies centred on the impact of aviation on climate change, particularly the aspect of global warming because aviation is responsible for about 2 percent of all greenhouse-emissions globally. However, few studies have looked into the shortcomings that global warming may impose on air travel as head winds will increase travel hours and even escalate fatal turbulence in major air routes.

The researchers, Coffel and Horton previously published a 2015 report containing projections on future takeoff complications associated with increasing temperatures for the Boeing 737-800 at Ronald Reagan in Washington, LaGuardia in Washington, Denver and Phoenix.  In contrast, the recent study covers a wider scope that involves jets and 15 other busy airports in Europe, China, the Mideast, South Asia, and the United States.

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