Are airlines the culprit or the victim of climate change? Possibly both says United Airlines, claiming its bottom line is being affected by warmer operating temperatures.
The CEO of the world’s third largest airline went on record to blame climate change for recent summer air chaos, with delays and cancellations to schedules being the result of a warmer climate.
Speaking at an event for Politico, United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby blamed manmade climate change for week-long weather events that crippled operations in the lead-up to the 4 July public holiday in the United States.
Thunderstorms over key operations hub Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey caused misery for travellers. Kirby says it will only get worse.
“More heat in the atmosphere, Thermodynamics 101,” said Kirby “You’re going to have more thunderstorms.”
Operation events that happen in higher temperatures, such as reduced takeoff weights and local extreme weather, are going to get worse.
In the US and Southern Europe, which have been experiencing record temperatures, there have been incidents of planes having to offload and compensate passengers after heat air reduced operating weights for planes.
Airlines have been warned that a hotter climate could see jet streams - the high-altitude air currents that drive weather patterns and airlines must navigate - change or become stronger.
Research published by ICAO and the University of Reading suggested that climate change is already affecting air travel. Professor Paul Williams said that Atlantic flights, east to west, were now taking longer on average and severe, injury-causing turbulence has risen over the past three decades.
Although airlines are now seeing effects on their operations of flying in a hotter climate Kirby said that the response had been slow.
Kirby also hit out at industry-wide greenwashing, telling Politico that a majority of carbon offset programmes, the main way airlines reduce carbon footprints, “frankly are fraud.
“They are either forests that were never going to be cut down or trees that were going to be planted anyway,” he said.
In March, a study by the University of Berkeley found that of 293 forests used in offset programmes had dubious benefits and airlines, including Delta and KLM, have faced legal action over their CO2 compensation schemes.
The airline boss agreed to appear at the public talk on ‘Reauthorising the Federal Aviation Administration’ after drawing flak over the airline’s response to the extreme weather events. It was noted that United’s operations took longer to recover from the disruptions than competitors.
Kirby also issued a public apology at the beginning of the month for chartering a private jet from New Jersey to Denver, the same day that 750 United flights were cancelled.
“Taking a private jet was the wrong decision because it was insensitive to our customers who were waiting to get home,” he said at the time.