Why is extreme heat a problem for airplanes?

An American Eagle jet is seen through heat ripples as it lands at Sky Harbor International Airport, Monday, June 19, 2017 ,in Phoenix. American Airlines cancelled dozens flights out of Phoenix today due to extreme heat. The cancellations are for operations by smaller regional jets that have lower maximum operating temperatures than full size jets. The smaller jets can't operate when it's 118 degrees or higher. (AP Photo/Matt York)

EUGENE, Ore. - As a heat wave bakes the American Southwest, temperatures were forecast to hit 120 F in Phoenix, Arizona.

That's a problem for air traffic.

RELATED | Too hot to fly?! Near 120-degree temperatures disrupt flights in Phoenix

American Airlines canceled over 50 flights nationwide Tuesday due to the extreme heat.

The airline started daily non-stop service between Eugene and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport this month.

So far, no flights in or out of the Eugene Airport have been delayed or canceled.

But the news made travelers nervous.

"It's been hot for the last few weeks, this is normal for us," said Diona Berzoza, a passenger on a Eugene-Phoenix flight. "I don't ever recall traveling via air this time of year, never had this issue before. I am worried to say the least."

Steve Boulton, director of the Lane Aviation Academy, explained how extreme heat impacts airplanes.

Boulton said that as the air gets warmer, the air gets thinner - as if it were at a much higher elevation.

"So that affects the aircrafts in a whole lot of ways," he said. "You have to go faster on the runway to be able to get the same amount of lift; the engines tend to be less efficient certainly."

The heat wave is forecast to continue in Phoenix. Travelers should check with their airline for any updates on flights.

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