Climate Change May Take Major Toll On Airlines, Raise Costs, Study Finds

NEW YORK — Climate change could make flying more expensive, a new study finds.

Researchers at Columbia University modeled the future abilities of five different major commercial aircraft to take off at 19 major airports worldwide, hoping to determine how weight restrictions will impact the airline industry in the coming decades.

Airplanes flying in sunset
The airline industry may face new challenges thanks to climate change. Hotter temperatures could mean new weight restrictions on airplanes and greater costs to consumers.

Their model used the assumption that temperatures could increase by four to eight degrees Celsius by 2080, and that higher air temperatures cause the air’s density to decline, resulting in added difficulty for a plane taking off.

Once a plane has surpassed its maximum weight for a given temperature, it can no longer take off, the researchers noted.

The model showed that by 2050, up to a quarter of flights may have to shed somewhere between half-a-percent and four percent of their cargo with current rates of warming.

“Both mid-sized and large aircraft are affected, and airports with short runways and high temperatures, or those at high elevations, will see the largest impacts,” explains lead researcher Ethan Coffel in a press release.

Researchers believe that during temperature peaks, 10 to 30 percent of airplanes may have to remove fuel, cargo or passengers to fly safely. Otherwise, they’ll simply have to sit and wait for cooler air. Overall, this newfound challenge for the aviation industry could result in increased prices for consumers.

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“Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world,” adds Coffel. “The sooner climate change is incorporated into mid- and long-range plans the more effective adaptation efforts can be.”

Other potential changes that airlines could make to compensate for rising temperatures include modifying aircraft design, building longer runways, and making more frequent scheduling changes.

Better enjoy cheap airplane tickets while you can.

Coffel et al. published their findings last week in the journal Climatic Change.

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