Sustainable Energy

Will climate change extend your flight?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Climate change could extend your flight.
Buena Vista Images | Getty Images

The effects of climate change could extend transatlantic flights, according to researchers from the University of Reading.

A study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters and led by atmospheric scientist Paul Williams, has found that an acceleration of the jet stream will mean faster flights from the U.S. to Europe, but longer flights in the opposite direction.

Jet streams are very strong winds that move weather systems around the world and can reach speeds of 200 miles an hour.

Researchers looked at the effects of doubling CO2 in the atmosphere, and calculated that jet-stream winds between New York and London would become around 15 percent faster during the winter, with similar results during other times of the year.

As such, flights towards London would become "approximately twice as likely" to be under five hours and 20 minutes, with an increased chance that flights to New York would exceed seven hours.

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On average, flight times between London and New York are around seven and a half hours westbound and six hours forty minutes eastbound, according to Skyscanner.

"The aviation industry is facing pressure to reduce its environmental impacts, but this study shows a new way in which aviation is itself susceptible to the effects of climate change," Williams said in a news release.

According to the Air Transport Action Group, more than three billion people took to the skies in 2013, with flights generating 705 million tonnes of CO2.

"The bad news for passengers is that westbound flights will be battling against stronger headwinds," Williams added. "The good news is that eastbound flights will be boosted by stronger tailwinds, but not enough to compensate for the longer westbound journeys."

The study sees planes on the transatlantic route collectively spending an additional 2,000 hours in the sky every year, with 7.2 million extra gallons of jet fuel burnt, costing $22 million.

In terms of carbon emissions, results suggest that they will increase by 70 million kg, "equivalent to the annual emissions of 7,100 average British homes."

The impact of climate change may not be restricted to flight routes in the northern hemisphere. "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," Williams said.