Too Hot to Fly? Climate Change May Take a Toll on Air Travel

Bigger jets like Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s have higher operating thresholds (126 and 127 degrees, respectively), he said. All three of those maximum temperatures are specific to the Phoenix airport; aircraft have different maximum operating temperatures depending on a variety of factors, including airport elevation.

But even though bigger planes weren’t affected, Mr. Feinstein said, American decided to give passengers on any flight to or from Phoenix between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. — the hottest part of the day — the option to change their trips. Over all, more than 350 flights were potentially affected by the hot weather in Phoenix.

Robert Mann, the president of airline industry analysis firm R. W. Mann & Company, said that although airlines were working to become more efficient now, they were not doing much to prepare for the longer-term effects of climate change. “In a world where they’re focused on near-term issues, the glacial rate of environmental change is not within their fleet-planning horizon,” he said.

Mr. Feinstein of American Airlines referred questions about the effect of climate change on flying to an industry trade group, Airlines for America. The trade group provided its Earth Day statement describing its members’ efforts to become more environmentally friendly by using more fuel-efficient engines and modifying planes to be more aerodynamic.

How Higher Temperatures Affect Flying

As temperatures increase, air density decreases, which reduces lift and makes it harder for airplanes to take off. To address this, airlines could reduce airplane weight (by loading fewer passengers and less fuel or cargo) or schedule departures for cooler periods of the day.

Aviation is a major producer of carbon dioxide, responsible for about 2 percent…

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