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How climate change and heatwaves will affect the aviation industry.


Summer 2018 sure has been one to remember, with scorching heat waves across June, July and August reaching record-breaking temperatures in the UK and Ireland.

Whilst many of us may enjoy this prolonged period of sun, when taking into consideration the extreme cold we had during the winter, and the increased level of destruction caused by hurricanes earlier in the year, there is no denying we are slowly starting to see the effects of climate change which experts have been warning us about for years.

Some sectors of the British economy greatly benefited from the surge in temperatures this summer (compounded by World Cup fever), however, the aviation industry is not so lucky, and is now coming to terms with how the ‘new norm’ in our weather patterns will affect air travel both in the coming years and the more long-term future.

Here are just a few ways global warming will affect the aviation industry:

More Turbulence

“Fasten your seatbelt” is a phrase you will hear more regally when flying as the global temperature increases, with Studies suggesting clear-air turbulence (known as CAT) will increase as the atmosphere warms.

CAT is the turbulent movement of air masses in the absence of any visual clues, such as clouds, and is caused when bodies of air moving at widely different speeds meet.

As this type of turbulence is undetectable on radar, new technologies are having to be explored, with Boeing (in partnership with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) currently testing technology which would fire a laser forward from the front of the aeroplane and could detect CAT up 10 miles away (although with flying speeds this would only give the pilot around 60 seconds warning).

Whilst the technology for detecting this kind of turbulence is coming, some suggest it is not advancing at the rate needed and commercial airliners will be buffeted by up to three times more turbulence in future decades. Time to buckle up!


Currently, all the world’s major airports have been built in accordance to the ‘old norm’ weather patterns we were all used to.

The main consideration when choosing the location to build a new airport would have been far away from populated cities and mountains; so flat, low lying sites near the coast seemed to be the perfect location.

Sadly, as climate change takes hold of the planet, these sites are becoming more and more vulnerable.

These vulnerabilities range from issues such as the risk of runways flooding (caused by the rising sea levels), high winds damaging control towers and other equipment, right down to the heatwaves making it unbearable for those working on the runways, as the tarmac absorbing the heat will start to melt on blisteringly hot days.

Many airports have already begun the fight back, for example the proposed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport will incorporate a 21-foot seawall and drainage system to combat future floods, whilst Norway has decided to only build future airports at 23 feet above sea level.  

The other consideration for Airports is the length of runway needed for planes to successfully take off. As the heat rises, it is tougher for planes to get in the sky as air density is lower and so there is less air molecules hitting the wings to cause the upward lift needed to take off.

Increased Operating Costs

As well as the practical and physical effects climate change is having on the industry, there is also the increased costs for the industry and travellers to consider.

Increased heat means aircraft will have a lower weight allowance, meaning passenger numbers, luggage allowance and how much fuel an aeroplane can carry will all drop, which will cause increased fares for passengers, as well as different (and sometimes longer) flight paths. The heat will also lead to more flight cancellations causing extra disruptions at airports in the coming years.  

There is also the cost associated with the structural work at airports needed to get them ready for the coming changes to our weather. Whilst it may seem simple to extend a runway, increased land costs and political implications mean this isn’t as straightforward as it may first seem.


With Climate Change now becoming a reality, society and industry are slowing adapting to the new conditions which we will be faced with over the coming decades.

However, work is being done to try and limit the damage being caused, and as mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the business travel industry is taking big steps to be more sustainable in a bid to limit the environment impact associated with travel and tourism.

What are your thoughts on Climate Change and how it will affect the aviation industry? Leave your comments in the box below!

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About James Plumb

James is one of our experienced Business Development Managers and loves nothing more than helping his clients obtain the latest solutions to help make business travel easier.
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