Science Articles

Extremely High Temperatures Ground Flights in Phoenix, Arizona

In an unlikely fallout of global warming, numerous flights departing from Phoenix, Arizona, had to be cancelled because they were unable to take off due to the extreme heat wave gripping Phoenix city, along with other parts of the USA.

In an unlikely fallout of global warming, numerous flights departing from Phoenix, Arizona, had to be cancelled because they were unable to take off due to the extreme heat wave gripping Phoenix city, along with other parts of the USA.

Temperatures in Phoenix hit 49 degree Celsius this week, which played havoc with the city’s air transport. Apparently, planes were unable to take off in such extreme heat, which led to the cancellation of dozens of flights that were scheduled to take off from the Phoenix airport.

That the Earth is headed towards disaster owing to global warming has been much discussed and deliberated over, across the world. Melting polar ice caps, floods, draughts, forest fires and cloud bursts are some of the consequences of global warming that scientists have been warning us about, time and again.

However, the gradual rise in temperatures has hastened us towards debilitating climate change that has seen numerous cities across continents hitting extremely high temperatures. 2016 was the hottest year on record, and 2017 is set to usurp that record easily, what with this year seeing the hottest March, April and May since temperatures began to be recorded.

Extreme heat affects a plane’s ability to take off, especially smaller planes, like the Bombardier CRJ aircraft that ply regional routes in the US. These planes have a maximum operating temperature of around 47.7 degree Celsius. Thus, when the temperature in Phoenix hit 49 degrees, the planes were unable to take off and had to be grounded.

Large aircraft such as Airbuses and Boeings have maximum operating temperatures of around 52.7 degree Celsius.
So, what happens to a plane’s take-off in extreme heat? It has something to do with the lift of the aircraft. When temperatures are high, the density of the air falls. Thus, in non-technical terms, the air is thinner. The lower air density reduces the lift that is generated in the wings of an aircraft.

Lift is to aeronautics, what wind is to a kite. To create additional lift, the aircraft’s engines need to generate more thrust to get airborne. Either that or the plane has to take a longer run-up to get a better lift. If the airstrip is not long enough to support the run-up, then the plane must shed a lot of load (in the form of passengers, cargo and fuel) to achieve the kind of thrust required to take off in the low density air.

In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization had warned that higher temperatures caused by climate change could affect aircraft take offs and limit the payload and the amount of fuel they can carry.

So prevalent is this problem that many Middle Eastern, African and South American countries choose relatively cooler night time or evenings to schedule longer duration flights that require higher amounts of fuel to be carried on board.

The temperatures are expected to rise even further as the week progresses. And even though the aviation industry will see through this crisis once cooler weather sets in, the future of Earth seems bleak, unless concrete steps are taken to deal with global warming.