Wingtip as seen out the aircraft window, whilst the aircraft is coming in for a landing on a cloudy, overcast day.

EASA to assess effects of climate change on air travel


Green Wing logo with white letters against a green backdrop, and leafs on either sideImpacts of climate change on air travel, such as increased turbulence and extreme weather, will be studied as part of a new initiative launched by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

The aim of the initiative, known as the European Network on Impact of Climate Change on Aviation (EN-ICCA), is to gain a better understanding of how global warming could affect air travel in the future and how the airline industry should prepare for these expected changes.

“EASA is already undertaking a lot of work to reduce the aviation impact on climate and environment. This new initiative will assess the impact of climate change on air travel, as we are already observing a growing number of changes that affect flight operations,” says EASA executive director Luc Tytgat. 

“We have created this group with new partners, from outside aviation, to deal with this emerging situation, so that the high level of safety in air travel is maintained for passengers despite these new threats.”

The threats that will be assessed include extreme weather phenomena, such as hurricanes, floods and heatwaves, as well as the potential for increased and more severe turbulence, as well as airborne icing. 

EASA points to research which suggests that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of clear-air turbulence — already “one of the main causes of passenger and cabin crew injuries worldwide” — in regions where international air traffic is dense, such as the North Atlantic, South-East Asia and the North Pacific.

As previously reported by Runway Girl Network, studies have suggested that as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase, so too will incidents of severe turbulence and associated injuries and aircraft damage. 

A University of Reading study published in 2017 in the Advances in Atmospheric Sciences journal, for instance, found that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels versus pre-industrial times — which scientists predict will happen by the middle of this century — would result in a 149% increase in severe clear-air turbulence, a 127% increase in moderate-to-severe turbulence and a 94% increase in moderate turbulence.

A more recent study published earlier this year by the same university found that these increases are already being felt. According to the research, in the North Atlantic the total annual duration of severe turbulence increased by 55% from 17.7 hours in 1979 to 27.4 hours in 2020.

“Following a decade of research showing that climate change will increase clear-air turbulence in the future, we now have evidence suggesting that the increase has already begun,” says Professor Paul Williams, who co-authored the study. “We should be investing in improved turbulence forecasting and detection systems, to prevent the rougher air from translating into bumpier flights in the coming decades.”


Airlines are already starting to prepare for more turbulent times ahead. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced earlier this year that 20 carriers had joined its Turbulence Aware platform, which pools turbulence data from thousands of flights operated by participating airlines and provides real-time information to help enable pilots to avoid it.

In addition to increased turbulence, climate change is expected to result in more extreme weather phenomena which could affect flights. EASA highlights research, for example, which predicts that climate change will increase the likelihood of encountering large hailstones that “could cause a multiple engine shutdown at low altitude, damage aircraft equipment in the aircraft’s radome or destroy the windshield”.

The main objectives of EN-ICCA, says EASA, are to help aviation stakeholders better understand the effects of climate change and define actions to maintain safety.

“This new network will facilitate the exchange of information between all stakeholders and co-ordination between research projects on climate change, thereby helping EASA and other authorities to manage the effect of climate change on aviation,” says the regulator. 

An initial EN-ICCA meeting took place earlier this month, with a follow-up meeting scheduled to take place in 2024.  

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