Climate change to intensify transatlantic turbulence

Scientists are predicting that changes in the Earth’s climate will ultimately increase the levels of turbulence experienced by transatlantic airline passengers and increase the cost of tickets, according to reports today.

Reading University scientists have been studying the North Atlantic corridor, the main flight route between North America and Europe for 600 flights per day. With the help of a supercomputer they have been plotting the expected changes to air currents above 10km in altitude, including the jet stream. Global warming has already caused these winds to intensify and become less stable, and this phenomenon is expected to intensify still further over the coming years.

The net result of these changes to the atmosphere is that by the middle of this century, transatlantic flights will be bumpier, and the extra fuel that airplanes will need to battle against or fly around the stronger currents will force an increase in ticket prices.

In a report by BBC News, Reading University’s Dr Paul Williams said, ‘It’s certainly plausible that if flights get diverted more to fly around turbulence rather than through it then the amount of fuel that needs to be burnt will increase. Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up.

‘The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8 percent. Moderate or greater turbulence has a specific definition in aviation. It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second squared, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on; it would be difficult to walk; drinks would get knocked over; you’d feel strain against your seatbelt.’