Transatlantic flights could get a lot bumpier and prices more expensive in the future if the climate changes as scientists expect, according to reports today.
Aircraft are already encountering stronger winds, and could now face more turbulence, according to research by Reading University.
The study suggests that passengers will be bounced around more frequently and more strongly by the middle of the century.
The zone in the North Atlantic affected by turbulence could also increase.
The university’s Dr Paul Williams told BBC News: “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.”
Scientists concentrated their investigation on the North Atlantic corridor, which some 600 flights cross each day to go between the Americas and Europe.
They used a supercomputer to simulate likely changes to air currents above 10km in altitude, such as the fast-moving jet stream.
There is evidence to suggest this has been blowing more strongly, and under some scenarios could be prone to more of the instabilities associated with turbulence as the Earth’s climate warms.
“The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8%,” said Dr Williams.
“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.”
He was presenting his research in Vienna at the European Union Geosciences general assembly.
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