/Flying through climate change

Flying through climate change

By Jim Poling Sr.
Staring out a window at Sky Harbour Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., I become increasingly edgy.
Outside that window, baggage handlers toss dozens of bulky bags onto the conveyor belt crawling up into the belly of the aircraft I am about to board. The stream of bags appears endless, and very, very heavy.
I shift my glance to the outside thermometer. It is 101F and only 9:30 a.m. My flight is delayed, as many are these days, and the longer the delay, the hotter it is going to get. The hotter it gets, the harder it will be for my airplane – cargo hold jam packed and every seat booked – to get off the ground. 
Airplanes roaring along a runway need lift to get airborne, and the warmer the air flowing across the wings, the less lift. The less lift, the less chance of getting into the air before the runway ends.
Temperature, airport elevation, weight, type of aircraft all figure into the calculations that determine whether an aircraft will get off the ground. 
At 104F the people who make “fly” or “no fly” decisions start to get concerned. At 118F some smaller regional flights are not allowed to fly. Larger, longer distance jets, like the one I am about to board, probably will be given flight clearance until the temperature gets into the 120s.
Dozens of flights were cancelled during the summer of 2017 when temperatures in the U.S. southwest soared into the 120s. In some world hot spots, such as the Middle East, flights often are scheduled for evening when temperatures are cooler.
I’m sure the computers, and the people who make the decisions, know what they are doing so I am not too concerned about the increasing heat and my flight. However, the experience widens my perspective on our changing climate: Changing weather patterns are making air travel less reliable, more uncomfortable, and more costly.
Hotter temperatures, more wild storms, stronger and more frequent winds are increasing delays, cancellations, rerouting, and rocky, uncomfortable flights. 
Two of the four flights I have taken recently have been among the roughest in my lifetime of air travel. Both were strapped in flights with little or no service.
The University of Reading in England expects that in-flight injuries caused by rougher flights will increase three-fold over the next 30 years. 
A study by the university predicts that severe turbulence on North Atlantic flights will increase by as much as 180 per cent. Flights over North America will see a 110-per-cent increase in turbulence and flights over Europe 160 per cent more.
Meanwhile, the leader of a union representing flight attendants says that rough air incidents caused by shifting air currents and clear air turbulence will double over the next 30 years.
In-flight turbulence could reach strengths that could “catapult unbuckled passengers and crew around the aircraft cabin,” Sara Nelson, international president of the 50,000-member Association of Flight Attendants, said in a column written for Vox.
Not all flight problems caused by climate change will be in the air. Many airports are located on flat, low-lying ground that is subject to flooding during storm surges. A U.S. federal assessment has found that 13 major U.S. airports are at risk from storm-driven ocean surges and heavy downpour flooding.
Also, warmer temperatures are melting permafrost in Arctic airport locations. The airport at Iqaluit, N.W.T. is built on permafrost and its runway and taxiway have had to be redone because of the melting. 
Average global temperatures have been increasing, notably since the 1970s. Eighteen of the earth’s warmest 19 years have occurred since 2000. Last year was the fourth warmest year ever recorded on earth.
Global temperatures are not expected to stop rising any time soon. A study in the journal Climatic Change has said that heat waves will become more frequent and that annual daily highs at airports worldwide are projected to rise seven to 14 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080.
Airline pilots do their best to go above or around rough air. But climate changes are producing more super storms, and more frequent thunderstorms that reach higher altitudes. Avoiding rough weather can mean longer flights and added fuel costs. 

So folks, tighten your seat belts and hope that the drink cart makes it to your row.