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  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

Airline Climate Change

Climate Change | Environment | Energy | Buffalo, NY | Certified B Corp

Climate Change was always easy for certain lawmakers to deny when its presence had such a negative impact on their potential donors; certain companies whose profits would be harmed by admitting Climate Change is a real problem also did all they could to deny its existence (or at least the man made impact of it all). But like renewable energy finding new like in the private sector as it is seen as a profitable alternative, Climate Change is now giving the aforementioned characters another reason to fight it.

In June a heatwave in Arizona reaching 118.4 Fahrenheit was responsible for over 40 flights being canceled.[1] This temperature was on the verge of exceeding the max heat Boeing and Airbus vehicles could safely operate and rather than risk the health of their passengers, Airlines were forced to cancel flights, offering refunds or opportunities for customers to rebook.[2] If this were just an isolated incident it would be a bad day and cost airlines a little money, but nothing they couldn’t overcome.

However, according to research at Columbia University in New York, this could just be the beginning: “Steadily rising mean and extreme temperatures as a result of climate change will likely impact the air transportation system over the coming decades.”[3] The paper explains how if the current trajectory of rising temperatures continues the air density will lessen and affect both lift and speed. This will not necessarily end air travel as we know it but could lead to airlines having to severely reduce its max weight capabilities.

Now, this does not mean airlines cannot counter these conditions in anyway, but obviously reacting to impending changes is an investment cost. As the Economist article on the research explains, the paper’s estimation for large scale climate effect on air travel could be seen as soon as this century.[4] The Economist then goes on to say after researchers examined 19 airports all over the world the results were airlines would have to “cut as much as 4% of passengers or cargo.”[5] So not only would planes need to invest money to counter the climate change effects, but they would also be reducing their capability to earn profits: Basically, for as many as 50 days a year (the summer months), planes would have to cut around 700 pounds of weight.[6]

This is just an estimate based on current trends. If average temperatures take another unexpected, drastic leap, these changes will have to be implemented sooner, with more cuts in weight. And while 700 pounds may not seem like a lot (Anywhere from 3-4 passengers and their luggage),[7] keep in mind how many stories the news cycles have played this year on airlines without having to remove passengers due to climate change.

This may be considered a future threat, but each passing day brings it closer. This year provided a brief example of rising average temperature costs on airlines and if they do not start countering future threats soon the industry could suffer.


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[1] http://fortune.com/2017/06/20/arizona-phoenix-flight-delays-cancelled-heat/

[2] http://fortune.com/2017/06/20/arizona-phoenix-flight-delays-cancelled-heat/

[3] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-2018-9

[4] https://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2017/07/can-t-stand-heat?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/&mod=djemlogistics

[5] https://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2017/07/can-t-stand-heat?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/&mod=djemlogistics

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/07/13/climate-change-could-make-flying-even-more-hellish/?utm_term=.6a0ba690bcf7

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/07/13/climate-change-could-make-flying-even-more-hellish/?utm_term=.6a0ba690bcf7

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