July 13 (UPI) -- As climate change brings high temperatures around the globe, new research suggests some airplanes could struggle to takeoff.
Airplane wings generate less lift in thin air. Warmer air is thinner air, as molecules in the atmosphere move farther apart as they heat up.
Thus, during extremely hot portions of the day, some plane models may need to dump weight -- whether fuel, cargo or passengers -- to get airborne.
"Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world," Ethan Coffel, a climatologist at Columbia University, said in a news release.
It's possible global warming is already having a measurable effect on air travel, researchers say. Since 1980, average global temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Last month, American Airlines nixed 40 flights in Phoenix when daytime highs approaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit yielded air too thin to support the takeoff of smaller regional jets.
As global highs rise and heat waves become more prevalent, airlines may have to cancel or delay more flights.
"This points to the unexplored risks of changing climate on aviation," said Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "As the world gets more connected and aviation grows, there may be substantial potential for cascading effects, economic and otherwise."
Previous studies have predicted global warming to lead to an uptick severe flight turbulence.