Climate change will slow transatlantic flights: study

2016-02-10 14:32


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - Winds bolstered by climate change will slow flights between North America and Europe, boosting fuel costs and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – which caused the problem in the first place, researchers said on Wednesday.

Climate change will speed up the jet stream, a high-altitude wind blowing from west to east across the Atlantic ocean, they wrote in the Institute of Physics journal Environmental Research Letters.

"The bad news for passengers is that westbound flights will be battling against stronger headwinds," study leader Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading, said in a statement.

"The good news is that eastbound flights will be boosted by stronger tailwinds, but not enough to compensate for the longer westbound journeys. The net result is that roundtrip journeys will significantly lengthen."

Williams and a team used climate model simulations to predict wind changes and fed these into a flight routing programme.

They based their modelling on a doubling in the pre-industrial CO2 concentration of 280 particles per million (ppm) in the atmosphere.

The current level is about 400 ppm, and 560 ppm could already be reached this century if countries fail to dramatically cut back emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

‘Record-breaking times’

The team calculated that average jet-stream winds between Heathrow airport in London and New York's John F Kennedy, would become 15 percent faster in winter.

"As a result, London-bound flights will become twice as likely to take under five hours and 20 minutes, implying that record-breaking crossing times will occur with increasing frequency in future," the authors said.

"On the other hand, New York-bound flights will become twice as likely to take over seven hours, suggesting that delayed arrivals will become increasingly common."

Even assuming no growth in aviation, this would mean an additional 2 000 flight hours every year, the team said.

This would burn an extra 7.2 million gallons of jet fuel at a cost of some $22m, and emit an additional 70 million kilos of carbon dioxide – equivalent to the annual emissions of 7 100 average British homes.

"This effect will increase the fuel costs to airlines, potentially raising ticket prices, and it will worsen the environmental impacts of aviation," said Williams.

Changes in the jet stream have already been observed – last year British Airways Flight 114 was carried by strong winds from New York to London in a record five hours and 16 minutes.

Jetliners flying the other way, however, faced powerful headwinds that caused many to make unscheduled refuelling stops.

The scientific jury is still out on whether changes already observed can be blamed on climate change.

Last year, a study also led by Williams said flights will become bumpier as global warming destabilises air currents.

Read more on:    paris  |  climate change

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.