Why Planes Can’t Fly In Extreme Heat

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In late June 2017, Phoenix, Arizona confirmed a record high temperature of 118 degrees F, and grounded multiple flights. This, ironically, came around the same time Nature Climate Change published a study that said 75% of all people could face deadly heatwaves in the near future. However, excessive heatwaves will not only effect your daily routine, but also your vacation plans. If it is severely hot, planes cannot take off. Here’s why.

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The obvious reason planes can’t take off in extreme heat is that it puts too much stress on some of the plane’s internal mechanisms. However, there is a deeper science behind it. A pilot name Patrick Smith published “Cockpit Confidential”, a book that tells you the ins and outs of air travel. Smith writes in his book “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.”

travelfuntu - airplanes

An article published by Forbes goes on to further explain the process, “An airplane’s wing is designed in such a way that lower pressure is created as air flows over the the top of the wing, and higher pressure is found beneath the wing.  The difference in pressure creates lift. If there is not sufficient airflow to create the pressure difference, there is insufficient lift. Extreme heat conditions, make it difficult to generate the required lift for planes to take off or land.”

travelfuntu - plane

Many of those Phoenix passengers were offered rebookings or refunds. However, with the recent criticisms of several U.S. airlines, climate change and increased heat will certainly be an interesting topic for airline executives and how they will deal with these issues in the future.


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