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Prepare for Atlantic flight delays… and higher prices

The University of Reading has published research showing the flights from London to the USA will be getting longer – and costing more – as a result of climate change:

“Aircraft do not fly through a vacuum, but through an atmosphere whose meteorological characteristics are changing because of global warming. The impacts of aviation on climate change have long been recognised, but the impacts of climate change on aviation have only recently begun to emerge. These impacts include intensified turbulence and increased take-off weight restrictions.”

Dr Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading, calculates that transatlantic aircraft will spend an extra 2,000 hours in the air every year, adding millions of dollars to airline fuel costs and increasing the risk of delays:

“By accelerating the jet stream – a high-altitude wind blowing from west to east across the Atlantic – climate change will speed up eastbound flights but slow down westbound flights, the study found.  The findings could have implications for airlines, passengers, and airports.”

The difference in flight times is stark.  Wind-assisted flights from New York to London are becoming much more likely to arrive within 5 hours and 20 minutes.  By contrast, flights from London to New York are increasingly likely to take more than 7 hours.  Unfortunately, the fuel savings from eastbound flights will not compensate for losses on the westbound flights:

“Due to the extra time spent in the air, transatlantic flights will burn an extra $22 million worth of fuel annually, and will emit an extra 70 million kg of CO2 – equivalent to the annual emissions of 7,100 British homes.  And this might only be the tip of the iceberg.”

While the research focused on jet stream conditions above the Atlantic, the authors point out that the jet stream circles the planet, and so similar impacts are likely to be experienced on aviation in other regions.

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