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More turbulence and longer runways – seven ways climate change will affect air travel

October 4, 2017

By Paul Homewood


Even by the Telegraph’s recent standards, this new article really is dire:

More turbulence and longer runways – seven ways climate change will affect air travel

Gavin Haines 4 October 2017 • 10:15am

It’s an inconvenient truth that jetting off to foreign shores for your holidays directly contributes to the very climate change that, according to some scientists, could have a considerable impact on aviation.

From longer flight times and more expensive plane tickets to an increase in turbulence, here are five ways a warming planet could impact air travel.

1. More turbulence

Bad news for nervous flyers. Passenger jets will be buffeted by up to three times more turbulence in future decades, according to a new report.

Scientists had already noticed that so-called clear-air turbulence (CAT) was on the rise, but the new study by the University of Reading is the first to come up with a comprehensive mathematical model predicting long-term global conditions. It estimates that by 2050 the rate of inflight injuries will have almost tripled in line with the increased volume of turbulence.

“Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons and at multiple cruising altitudes,” said Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Reading, who led the new study. “This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change.”

The research team called for better forecasting systems so passengers can get seated and belted in time. They could soon have their wish. Boeing is preparing to test new laser technology that could allow pilots to detect clear-air turbulence up to 10 miles away.

That’s not far when you consider that the cruising speed of a passenger jet is about 550 mph; it basically gives the pilot 60 seconds to react. However, that’s just enough time to change course slightly or tell the cabin crew to batten down the hatches.

2. More delays and cancellations

In June American Airlines was forced to cancel dozens of flights from Phoenix, Arizona, because it was too hot. With the mercury rising to 120F, the airline said some smaller jets were simply unable to leave the tarmac. Why? Well, hot air is thinner, which makes it harder for planes to generate enough lift to leave the ground.

“When you get in excess of 118F or higher, you’re not able to take off or land,” Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, told the New York Times. Researchers warn disruptions like these are likely to become more common as the planet warms.

This summer dozens of flights were cancelled due to high temperatures Credit: GETTY

3. Longer flights

Climate change is not just making turbulence more common; according to 2015 study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, rising temperatures are also increasing flight times.

Scientists linked a small increase in return journey times of long-haul flights with an increase in the variation of the jet stream, the high altitude air that flows from west to east.

Just one minute’s extra flight time would mean jets spend approximately 300,000 hours longer per year burning roughly a billion additional gallons of jet fuel, they said, thus adding to the problem.

“Upper level wind circulation patterns are the major factor in influencing flight times,” said Kris Karnauskas, associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “Longer flight times mean increased fuel consumption by airliners. The consequent additional input of CO2 into the atmosphere can feed back and amplify emerging changes in atmospheric circulation.

“We already know that as you add CO2 to the atmosphere and the global mean temperature rises, the wind circulation changes as well – and in less obvious ways.

“The airline industry keeps a close eye on the day-to-day weather patterns, but they don’t seem to be concerned with cycles occurring over a year or longer.”

4. More expensive tickets

Damage and delays caused by turbulence is estimated to costs US airlines alone between $150m ($113m) to $500m (£377m) annually. Therefore, if cases of severe air turbulence increase – and if planes have to burn more fuel to counter fiercer winds – passengers could reasonably expect to pay more to fly.

5. More weight restrictions

Until new technology becomes available, there is little pilots can do to avoid lumps and bumps in the skies: clear air turbulence is not visible to the naked eye, isn’t detectable on radar and can’t be accurately forecasted. However, according to Steve Allright, a British Airways pilot, one thing they can do is cruise at higher altitudes, though there are restrictions preventing them from doing so.

“Our endeavours to fly at an altitude that has been reported as smooth may be prevented by several constraints such another aircraft occupying that level, or the weight of the aircraft at that time,” he said.

If planes need to fly higher to avoid turbulence then they would need to be lighter, which means the weight of the aircraft – and possibly passengers’ luggage, or even passengers themselves – could invite greater scrutiny.

6. Airport closures

The world’s major airports were not built with global warming in mind – they simply needed to be far from big towns and tall mountains, so coastal areas and river deltas were often chosen. These low-lying sites, however, are vulnerable to storm surges and rising sea levels.

Climate change scientists predict that sea levels could rise by as much as six feet this century. But if they rise by just a fraction of this, hundreds of aviation hubs around the world will be threatened. Some countries are taking steps to combat the risk. Norway, for example, has pledged to build all future runways at least 23 feet above sea level.

7. Longer runways

As outlined above, warmer temperatures mean planes have a tougher time taking off and during heatwaves airports with short runways are the first to face problems. Back in 2013, 15 passengers were removed from a Swiss flight to Geneva after the plane was deemed too heavy to take off from London City Airport, whose single 4,900-foot runway is one of the smallest in the country.

Unless airports like London City lengthen their runways, this sort of thing could become a far more regular occurance in future.

My Comments
The comments on the Telegraph page are universally and highly critical. And no wonder!
 I have previously dealt with the junk science about turbulence and jet stream nonsense put forward by Prof Paul Williams. He claims that global warming is making the jet stream stronger.
Yet other junk scientists, such as Jennifer Francis, say the opposite, that Arctic warming is making it slow down.
Dozens of flights cancelled due to hot weather”? Does not the idiotic reporter know that many thousands get cancelled due to ice and snow?
Sea levels? I am not aware of any major airports which are built only a foot or two above sea level. The natural variation of tides and storm surges dwarfs the few inches of sea level rise seen in the last century.
Longer runways? This one really does take the biscuit! He quotes the London City Airport as an example. Yet the link he provides, which is to an earlier Telegraph report, specifically states:
A spokesman for CityJet, which flies from the airport to destinations including Edinburgh, Paris, Milan, Florence, Amsterdam and Dublin, said the problem – which affects the airline’s 15 Fokker 50 aircraft, but not its 23 Avro RJ85s – occurs on a “weekly or monthly, but not daily” basis.
The main problem is that planes need to take more fuel when there is bad weather about. In the example quoted, there were thunderstorms around Geneva. Given the very short runway at London, the pilot had no choice but to lighten his load.
  1. October 4, 2017 6:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    A vast spewage of hogwash, poppycock, and baloney from the Telegraph.

    • Robert Jones permalink
      October 4, 2017 8:30 pm

      The give-away was the reference to ‘Climate Change Scientists’, when it immediately became obvious that we were in for a strong dose of double-bollocks.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        October 5, 2017 12:49 pm

        And ‘University of Reading’.

  2. October 4, 2017 6:18 pm

    The Tegrelaph is becoming more like the Grauniad with each passing article.

  3. Stuart Brown permalink
    October 4, 2017 6:21 pm

    ‘Sea levels? I am not aware of any major airports which are built only a foot or two above sea level.’


    But the Dutch know a thing or two about keeping the sea out!

  4. October 4, 2017 6:21 pm

    More turbulence.

    Small planes have to wait to travel behind large planes due to the turbulence caused by the large plane.
    Likewise, wouldn’t the fact that there are more flights be the cause of increased turbulence?

  5. Joe Public permalink
    October 4, 2017 6:27 pm

    The solution to “passenger jets being buffeted by up to three times more turbulence in future decades” has already been solved:

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      October 4, 2017 6:54 pm

      Meanwhile, there’s a quicker and cheaper way to improve the fuel economy of commercial aircraft.

    • Derek Colman permalink
      October 4, 2017 11:10 pm

      EasyJet are just contracted to supply planes for the research. It’s a nice little earner for them, paid for by NASA. There is no known battery technology which could power an airliner, so it’s not likely to happen in our lifetime. The best electric aircraft currently available is an ultra lightweight 2 seater capable of flying for about one hour, possibly 80 miles. It’s application is for pilot training because it reduces the cost by half. Nothing has been solved as you claim.

    • Russ Wood permalink
      October 5, 2017 1:57 pm

      I read, a few weeks ago, about a REAL electrically powered aircraft. And for some reason,. the large, slow propellers are on the wingtips. The battery is a weird, self-destructing battery – apparently, you don’t recharge it but rebuild it.

  6. Dave Ward permalink
    October 4, 2017 6:55 pm

    “Which means the weight of the aircraft – and possibly passengers’ luggage, or even passengers themselves – could invite greater scrutiny”

    And not before time! It may be a highly contentious matter, but I fail to see how much longer airlines can continue to calculate aircraft weights based on a “notional” passenger. The total weight (and its distribution) is crucial to every aspect of an aeroplanes performance and operation. If it’s outside these parameters it no longer complies with the operating certificate, and is probably uninsured as a result. On the other hand if it actually weighs LESS than was thought, the performance margins will be better, and a safe take-off may be possible when previously deemed not – based on assumed passenger weights.

    As far as heat goes – one answer (although unpopular with those living in the vicinity of airports) is to re-schedule “heavy” flights for night-time, or early morning departures. Cooler, denser air can make a huge difference, as any pilot knows. The location, and orientation of runways is also important. Simply facing into a (prevailing) 10-15kt wind can make all the difference, rather than having that wind blowing across the runway. But most airports were built in whatever space was available at the time, rather than the most appropriate. Subsequent surrounding development can also be a factor, when “Obstacle Clearance” is taken into account.

    • JerryC permalink
      October 4, 2017 9:10 pm

      There was actally a commuter plane that crashed in North Carolina that crashed because they had too many fat people on one side of the aircraft.

      • Joe Public permalink
        October 4, 2017 10:41 pm

        “… plane that crashed in North Carolina that crashed because they had too many fat people on one side of the aircraft.”

        That’s not very PC!

        The correct terminology is:

        ” … plane that crashed in North Carolina that crashed because they had too many underheight-for-their-BMI people on one side of the aircraft.”

      • Dave Ward permalink
        October 5, 2017 9:07 am

        “Crashed because they had too many fat people on one side of the aircraft”

        There is a story from many years ago about a small RAF plane (possibly a DH Heron?) which got airborne with the elevator control lock still installed – on the outside of the aircraft. The pilot (who presumably got a severe bollocking afterwards, for not completing his checklist) quickly ordered the passengers to stand in a tight group, and by having them move back and forth in the cabin, was able to complete a successful circuit and landing. In another incident the nosewheel of a passenger jet start lifting well before rotation speed. The pilot aborted the take-off and returned to the stand, where it was found that some of the freight was loaded incorrectly. And a heavy-lift jet transport crashed with the loss of all onboard, when the large piece of equipment it was carrying broke loose, and rolled back. All examples of why the location of weight in an aircraft can be just as important as the overall weight.

        I think it’s high time that this was made clear to ALL passengers, and if any “underheight-for-their-BMI people” feel aggrieved, well tough – I don’t see why the rest of us should be put at risk. Weigh everything loaded onto the plane, and work out the performance based on actual figures, not assumptions…

    • Russ Wood permalink
      October 5, 2017 2:00 pm

      Back in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was an aviation Mass Properties engineer, the ‘standard pax’ weight (gad! ‘mass’ was for scientists!) was 75 kilograms including hand baggage. I don’t know what is these days, but I do remember recalculating everything for Fiji Airways!

  7. AlecM permalink
    October 4, 2017 7:04 pm

    There will be a slight increase of CAT because it’s an aspect of the differential part of the PID control system; the safety valve. However there is no heat effect because climate operates about a constant thermodynamic set point: global warming from CO2 set off by low level cloud behaviour removing latent heat.

    CO2 CS is very near zero.

  8. October 4, 2017 7:20 pm

    “I am not aware of any major airports which are built only a foot or two above sea level”

    Does Fiery Cross Reef count as an airport?

  9. Joe Public permalink
    October 4, 2017 7:40 pm

    This thread from Paul Matthews‏ appears to nail it:

    “Here is one of the dishonest tricks used by @DrPaulDWilliams to get his bogus tripling of turbulence”

  10. Henning Nielsen permalink
    October 4, 2017 8:14 pm

    “…the pilot had no choice but to lighten his load.”

    Recommended procedure on all flights to climate conferences. The extra weight that must be dumped will no doubt be happily provided by planet-saving activists.

  11. October 4, 2017 8:47 pm

    From the school of “Children will not know what snow is”
    Now in on BBC website with open comments
    ” Sydney, Melbourne urged to prepare for 50C days by end of century”
    say MODELS of ANU new paper

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      October 5, 2017 8:20 am

      Yes, only 83 years away now, better get preparing.

      Because in say 1930 we would have been able to prepare for the problems we have today.

  12. Athelstan permalink
    October 4, 2017 8:57 pm

    it’s a long time since I read such utter crap.

  13. October 5, 2017 12:46 am

    It is a typical Malthusian forecast which assumes no improvement in air transportation. However we know that Boeing et al are looking at flying higher and faster and the prospect of a ballistic flight at the edge of space is around the corner. UK TO AUSTRALIA IN A COUPLE OF HOURS. No air equals no turbulence.

  14. Phoenix44 permalink
    October 5, 2017 8:18 am

    I’m struggling to understand the flight time claim. I know aircraft follow great circles but in general they fly one way and then fly back. If there’s more if a headwind one way, isn’t there an equal and opposite tailwind coming back?

    Or is this more magical climate change effects where the wind blows both ways simultaneously?

    • Gerry, England permalink
      October 5, 2017 12:55 pm

      The Jetstream has become more variable and often meanders north to south rather than going straightish from west to east. This is not due to CO2 but the oncoming solar minimum. Flight times will increase if there is no Jetstream to ride on.

      • Tim Hammond permalink
        October 5, 2017 2:01 pm

        But people fly north to south as well, so you just get the benefit on different flights. Overall there’s no loss in times. Flights don’t fly east to west as such, most follow great circles. If the Jetstream declines, then you lose the tailwind but also lose the headwind.

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