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Environment & Climate Change

More flights could get grounded because of heat waves

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Remember how it was too hot for planes to fly in Phoenix last month?

That could happen more often as our climate warms.

Radley Horton is an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Horton is an author of a new study on this issue in the journal Climatic Change.

“As temperatures go up and air becomes less dense it’s more difficult for airplanes to generate lift on their wing,” he says. “What our study looked at was the fact that just a little bit of additional warming, as we’re pretty much guaranteed with a changing climate, is going to mean far more frequent and more intense heat wave events in the future, making this phenomenon a lot more common and requiring more removal of passengers when it does happen.”

He says when it’s too hot for planes to take off safely, airlines might have to remove cargo or passengers. Or they might have to shift flights to cooler parts of the day, or cancel some flights altogether during heat waves.

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