Pourquoi le vol New York-Paris est-il plus rapide que le Paris-New York ?

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  • Avec le même avion, il est plus rapide de se rendre à Paris depuis New York que l’inverse. Mais pourquoi ?

Aero-News (vol New York-Paris) – Suivant les conditions météo, le vol New York-Paris peut prendre 45 minutes de moins que le vol Paris-New York. L’avion est pourtant le même, la distance ne change pas et les pilotes — à priori — n’y sont pour rien. C’est à la configuration de l’atmosphère que l’on doit ce décalage temporel. Il existe en haute atmosphère des vents d’ouest permanents qui accélèrent l’avion lorsqu’il va d’ouest en est, mais le ralentissent lorsqu’il vole à contre-courant.

Sur cette carte, on peut observer la vitesse des vents à 500 hPa, le 27 février 2014. En violet, les régimes de vents les plus rapides mettent en évidence l’existence du courant-jet d’ouest en est entre 30 et 40° N. © earth.nullschool.net (capture d’écran)

Le courant-jet favorable aux vols New York-Paris

Dans ce véritable couloir aérien, dit courant-jet, la vitesse moyenne des vents est de 110 km/h, mais au centre du tube, on peut mesurer des vitesses maximales de 360 km/h. Épais de quelques kilomètres et long de plusieurs centaines de kilomètres, le courant-jet est la réponse de l’atmosphère à un double déséquilibre thermique. Sont en cause une différence de température de surface entre l’équateur et le pôle nord ainsi qu’une variation de température entre la surface et la haute atmosphère.

Afin d’équilibrer ces deux variations thermiques, l’air chaud et humide à l’équateur grimpe en altitude et s’écoule en direction du pôle. Plus il s’en approche, plus la rotation de la Terre agrandit la composante zonale (d’ouest en est) du vent. Vers 30° N, la composante du vent ne peut plus croître, et donc une partie de l’air subside vers le sol, tandis qu’un flux continue vers l’est. Ce courant d’ouest génère un couloir aérien rapide, le courant-jet. Ce vent se situe entre 10 et 16 km d’altitude, soit l’altitude à laquelle circulent les avions.

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