What Is Flight Turbulence And Why Does It Happen?

Airplane turbulence, which killed a passenger on a Singapore Airlines flight on Tuesday, is a complex phenomenon that is growing more common as a result of climate change, according to scientists.

Storms, cold and warm fronts, and the flow of air over mountains can all generate turbulence in the air that planes travel through.

Turbulence can also occur in jet streams, which are windy highways that travel across the world at specific latitudes.

“While meteorologists have excellent tools for forecasting turbulence, they are not perfect,” said Thomas Guinn, professor of aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

He also advised airline passengers to wear seat belts, which significantly reduces the likelihood of injury.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants, initial investigations indicate that the Singapore Airlines flight, which injured over 70 people, may have encountered clear-air turbulence, “the most dangerous type of turbulence.”

The FAA defines clear-air turbulence as “sudden severe turbulence occurring in cloudless regions that causes violent buffeting of aircraft.”

It is “especially troublesome because it is often encountered unexpectedly and frequently without visual clues to warn pilots of the hazard,” the FAA states in a post on its website.

According to the EPA, clear-air turbulence is generally observed near jet streams and is connected with wind shear, which is defined as rapid changes in wind speed or direction.

According to a 2021 study by the US National Transportation Safety Board, turbulence remains a major cause of accidents and injuries, despite substantial improvements in aviation accident rates.

However, turbulence-related deaths on commercial flights are “very rare,” according to Dr. Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Reading.

“As far as I am aware, there has not been a turbulence fatality on a commercial flight since 2009,” Williams said in a statement released to AFP.

Williams said that climate change is increasing the frequency of aviation turbulence.

“For clear-air turbulence, climate change is increasing the temperature difference across the jet stream between the cold poles and the warm tropics,” he stated.

“The tropics are warming faster than the poles at airplane cruising altitudes. This impact increases wind shear in the jet stream, resulting in additional turbulence,” Williams explained.

Leave a Reply