Climate change may lengthen flight times
Prayitno/flickr/Creative Commons

Climate change may lengthen flight times

By the end of this century, changes in wind patterns triggered by climate change will make round-trip flights between Hawaii and the West Coast last a little longer—and pollute a bit more, a new study suggests. When researchers scrutinized flight data for four major airlines along routes between Honolulu and three airports on the U.S. mainland (Los Angeles, shown in image; Seattle-Tacoma; and San Francisco) from 1995 to 2013, they found that takeoff-to-touchdown flight times were substantially influenced by the speed of high-altitude winds in a broad area straddling the air routes. They then used nearly three dozen climate models to assess how future climate might affect flight times on the same Hawaii-to-mainland routes. On average, round-trip flights along these paths will get about 1 minute longer by 2090, the team reports online today in Nature Climate Change. For two round trips per day for each airline on each route, that translates into an extra 133 hours in the air each year, an added 1.8 million liters of jet fuel consumption (at a cost of about $1.4 million), and an additional 4600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the team suggests. Estimating the worldwide effect of climate change on air travel isn’t so easy, because wind patterns will change differently in different regions. But even if the number of commercial flights in the future stays the same as today, the researchers estimate that a mere 1-minute hike in round-trip flight time along routes worldwide would cause aircraft to be in the air an extra 300,000 hours per year, burning $3 billion more in fuel and producing 10 million metric tons more carbon dioxide than they do today.