Climate Impacts on Density Altitude and Aviation Operations

Christopher J. Goodman The Climate Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri

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Jennifer D. Small Griswold Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Abstract

A critical determinant of aircraft performance is density altitude, or the density given as a height above mean sea level, which is dependent on air temperature, pressure, and humidity. These meteorological variables change on various time scales (e.g., hourly, seasonal, and decadal) and are regionally impacted by large-scale climate variability as the result of phenomena such as El Niño–Southern Oscillation or the Arctic Oscillation. Here a statistical analysis is performed to determine the impacts of climate variability on seasonally averaged density altitude, a key metric used by pilots to determine aircraft performance and efficiency, as a function of El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation using NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data and historical aviation meteorological records. Regressions show regional dependencies and impacts to density altitudes that vary as a function of season for both El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation cases. The results highlight the importance of understanding the regional nature of the impact of climate variability on density altitude and the potential impacts on aviation operations.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jennifer D. S. Griswold, smalljen@hawaii.edu

Abstract

A critical determinant of aircraft performance is density altitude, or the density given as a height above mean sea level, which is dependent on air temperature, pressure, and humidity. These meteorological variables change on various time scales (e.g., hourly, seasonal, and decadal) and are regionally impacted by large-scale climate variability as the result of phenomena such as El Niño–Southern Oscillation or the Arctic Oscillation. Here a statistical analysis is performed to determine the impacts of climate variability on seasonally averaged density altitude, a key metric used by pilots to determine aircraft performance and efficiency, as a function of El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation using NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data and historical aviation meteorological records. Regressions show regional dependencies and impacts to density altitudes that vary as a function of season for both El Niño–Southern Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation cases. The results highlight the importance of understanding the regional nature of the impact of climate variability on density altitude and the potential impacts on aviation operations.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jennifer D. S. Griswold, smalljen@hawaii.edu
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