"Melting" runways: Another sign we're not ready for climate change
The record-shattering heat plaguing the U.K. this week is wreaking havoc on local airports, as high temperatures damage runways that weren't built to withstand the sweltering conditions.
Why it matters: These airports' struggles are yet another example of infrastructure failing to keep up with our rapidly changing climate reality.
- Plus, many European airports were in logistical shambles even before the mercury started rising, and heat-related issues stand to further muck up the works.
Driving the news: London Luton Airport and Brize Norton (a Royal Air Force base) reported runway issues as temperatures approached 100°F in parts of the U.K.
The details: Like many other U.K. airports, the fields mentioned above feature runways made of asphalt.
- While generally cheaper and easier to maintain than concrete, asphalt is also more prone to dangerous softening in extreme heat. That's not usually a problem in the U.K. — but it is right now.
- Runways themselves aren't the only issue. Other parts of the airports, like taxiways and gate areas, can also suffer heat damage.
- Railways, too, are suffering in the high temperatures.
Yes, but: The issues at Luton and Brize Norton caused only minimal disruptions to civil and military aviation — though temperatures in the U.K. are expected to remain high, putting more airports at risk.
Heat has been a problem at U.S. airports too.
- Vice President Kamala Harris' Air Force Two, for example, was delayed for nearly two hours at Chicago Midway last month due to temperature-related tarmac problems, per White House pool reporters.
The intrigue: Among the U.K. airports with asphalt runways? Farnborough, which is currently playing host to one of the aviation industry's most important trade shows.
- No word yet if the heat's causing any issues as companies like Boeing and Airbus vie for sales of their latest and greatest jets.