I was surprised to read this in an article — from the Associated Press — about the extreme heat that is currently baking the American West:
The scorching weather presented problems for airlines because high temperatures can make it more difficult for planes to take off. Hot air reduces lift and also can diminish engine performance. Planes taking off in the heat may need longer runways or may have to shed weight by carrying less fuel or cargo.
Smaller jets and propeller planes are more likely to be affected than bigger airliners that are better equipped for extreme temperatures.
In June 1990, when Phoenix hit 122 degrees, airlines were forced to cease flights for several hours because of a lack of data from the manufacturers on how the aircraft would operate in such extreme heat.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline now knows that its Boeings can fly at up to 126 degrees, and its Airbus fleet can operate at up to 127.
Those temps are barely higher than the forecast for today.
We’re used to hearing about rising sea levels and desertification as results of a rapidly warming planet, but I’d never heard about a potential impact on airline travel. Twenty years from now, will some cities be cut off from air travel for significant portions of the year because airliners simply cannot operate safely in their weather? The quick and easy answer might be: Well, we’ll just invent planes with a higher tolerance for extreme heat… but will airlines invest in new planes? As the oil gets harder to find and the price of fuel goes up — which is inevitable unless we find some other way to power our civilization — airline travel is probably going to become even more of a luxury than it is now, so why buy new equipment in a contracting industry?
What do you think will be some unexpected side effects of global warming? It could be pure speculation on your part, not necessarily something you’re aware is true but don’t typically see brought up in discussion about the future of our planet and our civilization. But if you’ve got those, we’d love to hear about them, too.
Image from a BBC News slideshow of heat-wave photos.
(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)