Rising temperatures may mean fewer passengers on airplane flights

airplane takeoff

TAKEOFF TROUBLE Rising temperatures mean more planes will have to lose weight to take off, studies suggest.

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As if air travel weren’t annoying enough, new research suggests that global warming could force planes to carry fewer passengers to get off the ground. While a little more legroom might sound good, it could make flying more expensive.

Researchers examined the impact of rising temperatures on five types of commercial planes flying out of 19 of the world’s busiest airports. In the coming decades, an average of 10 to 30 percent of flights that take off during the hottest time of day could face weight restrictions.

That’s because warmer air particles are more spread out, generating less lift under a plane’s wings as it goes down the runway. So a plane must be lighter to take off. In some cases, a Boeing 737-800 would have to jettison more than 700 pounds — several passengers’ worth of weight — the researchers report online July 13 in Climatic Change.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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