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Coffel Weighs In on the Effect of Extreme Heat on Airplanes in Bloomberg Article

August 9, 2023


Ethan Coffel

Ethan Coffel

Hot air is less dense than cold air meaning planes have less lift when the mercury rises. That makes it harder for them to take off and stay aloft. Airlines and pilots will often choose to delay flights or unload passengers and luggage to shed weight from planes when the temperature climbs too high.

It’s a problem that will only get worse as the planet warms and extreme heat of the kind blanketing the southern U.S. this summer becomes more routine. Up to 30% of all U.S. flights, on average, may be subject to weight restrictions during periods of high heat by mid-century, according to a 2017 Columbia University study co-authored by Ethan Coffel, assistant professor of geography and the environment.

“This is a physical restriction related to air density, and there are not a whole lot of direct technological fixes for it,” says Coffel.

Read more in the Bloomberg article, “It’s Getting Too Hot for Airplanes.”

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