Record-high temperatures are being documented across the globe. One city, in particular is Phoenix, Arizona. In late June 2017, the city reported record-high temperatures of 118 degrees fahrenheit. This report ironically coincided with the release of a study published by Nature Climate Change. Thestudy suggested 75% mankind could soon face deadly heat waves if we do not change our actions soon. However, climate change is not only potentially affecting your future daily life, but also your current vacation plans. If it is severely hot outside, planes cannot take off. Here is the basic science as to why.
Many people can conclude the basic reasoning as to why planes cannot take off in extreme heat. The obvious reason is the heat puts too much stress on many of the plane’s mechanisms. However, it is more complex than that. In 2013, a pilot named Patrick Smith published “Cockpit Confidential.” The book gives a detailed description of the air travel industry. In his book, Smith writes “Hot air is less dense. This affects the output of the engines as well as aerodynamic capabilities, increasing the required runway distance and reducing climb performance. Therefore the amount of passengers and cargo a plane can carry are often restricted when temps are very high……How much so depends on the temperature, airport elevation and the length of the available runways. And getting off the ground is only part of it: once airborne, planes have to meet specific, engine-out climb criterion, so nearby obstructions like hills and towers are another complication.”
To further explain what Smith has written, Forbes reported “An airplane’s wing is designed in such a way that lower pressure is created as air flows over the the top of the wing, and higher pressure is found beneath the wing. The difference in pressure creates lift. If there is not sufficient airflow to create the pressure difference, there is insufficient lift. Extreme heat conditions make it difficult to generate the required lift for planes to take off or land.”
Luckily, many of those Phoenix passengers, traveling during the high temperatures, were rebooked or given refunds for their grounded flights. However, climate change may be a topic airline executives can no longer ignore. It will be interesting to see how the industry handles this issue in the future.