Just days after President of the United States of America Donald Trump announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris climate deal, National Weather Service in Phoenix, Arizona confirmed that a record high temperature was set this Monday, 19th June – a whopping 118 degrees F! The extreme heat that is being observed in Southwest US is likely to become more common, and worse, more intense. While a significant portion of the population is being affected by intense heatwaves, there’s one other impact that’s being felt these days – disruption in air travel.
Why it’s too hot for planes to fly in Southwest US
It’s actually pretty dangerous to fly airplanes when the temperatures reach such levels. Extreme heat affects air travel and affects it in ways difficult to imagine. But it isn’t really rocket science, although there’s a scientific explanation to why it’s dangerous to fly airplanes in extreme weather conditions. Around 50 flights were cancelled at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, most of them regional ones.
According to Patrick Smith, pilot and author of book Cockpit Confidential, the hot air affects the output of engines as well as aerodynamic capabilities. When aerodynamic capabilities are affected, the required runway distance increases and climb performance reduces. This is one of the main reasons why it’s unsafe and dangerous to fly airplanes under extreme heat conditions.
“Hot air is less dense. This affects the output of the engines as well as aerodynamic capabilities, increasing the required runway distance and reducing climb performance. Therefore the amount of passengers and cargo a plane can carry are often restricted when temps are very high……How much so depends on the temperature, airport elevation and the length of the available runways. And getting off the ground is only part of it: once airborne, planes have to meet specific, engine-out climb criterion, so nearby obstructions like hills and towers are another complication” says Patrick.
Airplane’s work on one fundamental principle – the lift created by the difference in pressures over the top of the wings and beneath the wings. It’s difficult to generate the required lift for planes under extreme heat conditions. Therefore, it is but natural for airlines to be delayed when the mercury soars.