GRAPEVINE (CBSDFW.COM) – Summer officially begins on Tuesday night, but it is already too hot for flights to take off from some parts of the country. Delays are piling up from Phoenix to DFW International Airport, where American Airlines has been forced to cancel several flights.
The carrier had canceled 43 regional flights as of Monday night due to extreme heat, and that number could grow.
Marty McLaughlin arrived at DFW International Airport from Phoenix early Tuesday morning. “The early flights aren’t having any problem. It’ll be the later flights that are the issue,” he explained. “When I left my house for the airport at 3:00 a.m. it was already 91 degrees.”
Denny Kelly spent nearly three decades as a commercial pilot. He said that these cancellations are all related to the size of the airplanes being used. “The engines don’t produce as much power at the higher temperatures,” Kelly said. And as it gets hotter, the air gets thinner and pilots are forced to increase speeds in order to get off the ground.
That is simply not possible with a smaller aircraft.
According to American Airlines, the larger planes can handle the heat. But the smaller regional aircraft, which often operate in smaller cities, can only withstand temperatures under 118 degrees. That is normally not a problem, but the forecast in Arizona this week has temperatures soaring near 120 degrees.
Matt Stalley is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. He said that heat-related flight cancellations could become a trend as warmer average temperatures are recorded. “When it comes to things like temperature changes,” said Stalley, “you start talking about things like global warming. It’s over a very long time period.”
“It was 121 degrees in my car,” said McLaughlin. “It burns your hands on the steering wheel. You don’t want to keep anything in your car too long, because it will bake.”
Temperatures in North Texas do not get that hot. Stalley said that the all-time record high temperature for DFW is around 113 degrees, and flight experts added that the lower altitude makes it safer for planes to take off. However, some travelers heading to or from Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon could be stuck.
At this time, American Airlines appears to be the only major carrier reporting problems caused by the heat.