Research suggests that flight times are set to increase as a result of climate change

Climate change is increasing the speed of the jet stream, which blows from west to east across the Atlantic. The change in the strength of the wind means that eastbound flights will become faster whilst westbound flights will slow down.

Currently the journey from New York to London is around an hour slower than the journey from London to New York as pilots have to battle the jet stream winds.

Scientists modelled the effects of a 2°C increase in temperature on wind speed and found that eastbound transatlantic flights slowed more than westbound flights were sped up, leading to round trips that were on average over a minute longer.

The transatlantic flight path is one of the most popular in the world with over 600 flights per day. The delays which the jet stream is expected to cause could add up to over 2,000 hours per year which amounts to $22m in extra fuel costs and 70 million extra kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted. The extra CO2 is equivalent to the annual emissions of 7,000 British homes. It is expected that the increase in carbon emissions and fuel consumption could cause ticket prices to increase.

Longer flights aren’t the only impact climate change will have on aviation. Research has already found that increased temperatures can lead to more turbulent flights and reduce the weight that planes can carry.

The jet stream consists of ribbons of very strong winds with speeds of up to 200 mph. It is driven by the temperature difference between the warm tropical regions and the cold polar regions in the upper atmosphere. The difference in temperature is increasing as a result of climate change and the jet stream is speeding up as a consequence.

The researchers said that this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Dr Williams of the University of Reading said: “The jet stream encircles the globe, and there is one in the southern hemisphere too. It is possible that flights elsewhere in the world will also suffer from a similar jet stream effect”.


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May 2022
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