According to a report published this week by University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, Manoj M. Joshi, climate change will increase the strength of turbulence on flights by 10-40%, while an increase in the frequency of turbulence is set to rise between 40–170% by 2050.

“Our results suggest that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century. Journey times may lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions may increase,” the author says.

The Government says the aviation industry is responsible for 13% of the UK’s impact on the climate as well as being the fastest growing source of emissions in the UK. Many environmental groups also suggest that emissions from aviation are set to quadruple by 2050.

“Aviation is partly responsible for changing the climate, but our findings show for the first time how climate change could affect aviation”.

However, those in the industry have reacted calmly to the news, saying that the potential impacts of climate change on the airline’s operations have been considered for some time. All explained that improving technology would keep them one step ahead.

Commenting on the report, British Airways told edie: “Our pilots are highly trained to deal with such situations and we continue to invest heavily in enhanced detection and communications systems to give our pilots as much information as possible to avoid patches of turbulence, for the sake of our customers and crew.

“The technology and training to predict, avoid and mitigate turbulence has improved hugely over the past 20 years and we would expect that pattern to continue into the future”.

Virgin Atlantic would not directly comment on the report but a spokesperson explained that its pilots are trained to deal with turbulence, and “its equipment is designed to avoid it”.

The airline industry aims to halve its net CO2 emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels through the introduction of new technology, alternative fuels and increased efficiency but this latest report could create problems in achieving this.

Pilots will have to take longer routes to avoid intense pockets of turbulence, which will in turn result in an increase in CO2.

Backing up the industry target, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of airlines with 240 members and comprising of 84% of global air traffic, says that although traffic increased by as much as 5.3% in 2011, total emissions for the same year increased by 3.3% to 669 million tonnes CO2 (compared with 649 million tonnes in 2010).

Leigh Stringer

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