Lonely Planet Writer

Scientists may have found the solution to help airlines fly in extreme hot weather

Problems for airplanes taking off in extreme hot weather are here to stay and the cancellation of flights at Phoenix Airport last month will not be a one-off. New research by scientists has shown how climate change is likely to see this become a much more regular thing and revealed the places most likely to be affected.

Phoenix airport, Arizona.
Phoenix airport, Arizona. Image by Joseph Plotz/Getty Images

A combination of not just extreme heat, but also very short runways, is the biggest problem according to their study.
They said Phoenix Airport will continue to have issues like it did in June, along with the likes of Denver, New York’s La Guardia, and Washington’s Ronald Reagan. However, passengers from New York’s JFK are unlikely to face the same issues because the runways are so much longer.

Jet departing in the heat.
Jet departing in the heat. Image by Andrew Howe/Getty Images

The research from Columbia University says airlines may also have to think about cutting passenger numbers, reducing luggage, or carrying less fuel at the warmest times of day. They also explained the science behind why airplanes struggle in extreme heat. As the air warms, it spreads out and its density declines. That means the airplane’s wings generate less lift in the thinner air as the aircraft speeds along the runway. Depending on aircraft model, the length of runway, and other factors – a jam-packed plane simply might not generate enough lift to take off safely.

Dubai International Airport.
Dubai International Airport. Image by Jochen Tack/Getty Images

They didn’t just look at America and said international airports like Dubai could also face major issues. Dubai has long runways but because temperatures are already so high, any further increase in heat could cause problems for airlines. Two airports they believe are less likely to suffer are London’s Heathrow, New York’s JFK and Paris Charles de Gaulle, which are in temperate regions and have the benefit of very long runways. The research said the answer probably lay in new engine or body designs, because extending runways in densely-packed cities was rarely an option.