An airplane travels through the air. Most of the time, the journey is smooth, making flying easy. However, occasionally, the smooth air transforms into turbulence, causing the airplane to ascend, descend, and sway as it moves through the atmosphere.
These turbulent air vortices are generated by three main types of obstacles: thermal, where warm air ascends through cooler air; mechanical, where a mountain or artificial structure alters the airflow; and shear, occurring along the boundary between two pockets of opposing air. This information was reported by travelandleisure.com.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports approximately 160 serious injuries caused by turbulence between 2009 and 2012. Considering that the FAA manages 45,000 flights daily, such injuries are relatively rare.
No need to worry
Although turbulence can be frightening, airplanes are designed to endure significant amounts of it. Modern airplanes are constructed to withstand various conditions, ranging from bird strikes to lightning, extreme temperatures, and powerful wind gusts.
"An airplane cannot be turned upside down, thrown into a spin, or otherwise thrown out of the sky by even the strongest gust or air pocket. The conditions may be annoying and uncomfortable, but the plane will not crash," emphasizes pilot Patrick Smith.
Additionally, airplane pilots typically anticipate approaching turbulence with the help of weather forecasts and communication with other pilots at 30,000 feet. When pilots encounter rough air, they notify air traffic control and other pilots guiding aircraft on the same flight path. Pilots or ground support can often detect turbulent air on radar or through specific weather conditions, providing ample time for preparation for themselves and their passengers.
However, there is one form of turbulence that remains unpredictable, and that is clear air turbulence, seemingly emerging out of nowhere in a clear sky. This type of turbulence can be the most perilous because its abrupt onset doesn't give the crew sufficient time to alert passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts.
How to stay safe during turbulence
A significant number of people injured each year due to turbulence in the United States are usually harmed because they weren't wearing seat belts. Many of the victims are crew members moving around the airplane during turbulence to remind passengers of safety precautions. When the seatbelt light comes on, it's crucial to comply with it.
Why turbulence can intensify
As the planet experiences rising temperatures amid the climate crisis, some scientists believe that turbulence will become more frequent and severe. A 2019 report indicated that climate change could make severe turbulence three times more common by 2050-2080.
Fortunately, researchers are developing new software and laser technology that could potentially help airplanes avoid turbulence altogether.