Magazine article Geographical

Grounded: Geographical's Regular Look at the World of Climate Change. This Month, Marco Magrini Looks at the Future of Civil Aviation

Magazine article Geographical

Grounded: Geographical's Regular Look at the World of Climate Change. This Month, Marco Magrini Looks at the Future of Civil Aviation

Article excerpt

Early this summer, Phoenix's international airport cancelled several dozen flights as the thermometer in Arizona was heading for a scorching 48[degrees]C. Dramatically, at that temperature air molecules may not be dense enough to provide the indispensable lift for aircraft to take off.

Last year was the hottest on record - surpassing 2015, which surpassed 2014 - and hints are already suggesting that 2017 will rise even further. With such a progression towards a warmer climate, how often will air traffic be disrupted? Can a fast-growing airline industry cope with the perils of a thinner atmosphere?

It is not a trivial question. Civil and commercial aviation are a crucial element of economic growth. According to the World Bank, around 15.5 billion tons of goods were shipped in 1970, up to 195 billion in 2015. There were 310 million passengers in 1970, up to 3.4 billion two years ago. The International Air Transport Association expects 7.2 billion passengers in 2035, yet another doubling in 20 years.

Civil aviation alone is responsible for two per cent of global C[O.sub.2] emissions. However, if we add the nitrogen oxides, the water vapour and the particulates it emits, its influence on climate's arithmetic is considered to be closer to four per cent. …

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