Turbulence Forecasts Helps Pilots Fly Smarter and Safer

For most airline passengers, when the seatbelt light goes off it’s time to unbuckle. The plane has successfully taken off and is cruising smoothly to its destination. But cruising in clear skies doesn’t necessarily mean smooth flying. When flights are en route to their destination, they have a possibility of encountering clear air turbulence (CAT). Advancements in creating turbulence forecasts can help.

Virtually impossible to detect with on-board radar equipment or the naked eye, CAT can cause violent buffeting of the aircraft. This occurs suddenly and if passengers and crew are not prepared and wearing seatbelts, it can cause serious injury. In the case of an Air Canada flight, nine of the 37 people injured during a CAT event were in critical condition.

The Unseen Danger of CAT

All turbulence, but particularly CAT, can be dangerous and expensive. The cost of turbulence is estimated at more than $500 million each year in damage and delays.

CAT can occur at any time, but it is most prevalent during the winter months. There is a strong relationship between winter and jet streams, which are fast-moving narrow air currents in the atmosphere. While the jet stream itself rarely causes significant CAT, the rapid change of wind speeds around the edges of the jet stream are a significant factor, and these wind changes are much more common during the cold winter months over North America.

New advances in technology, along with sophisticated weather models and algorithms, provide more accurate forecasting of the turbulence. But, as we have all experienced, weather is dynamic. That is why it is important to have real-time weather information integrated into flight management and planning systems such as DTN AviationSentry.

Turbulence Forecasts Key to Safer Flights

Avoiding routes with forecasted turbulence is the best option for airline safety. DTN AviationSentry turbulence forecasts predict the time, location and severity of the event, which helps both pilots and flight planners plan and avoid turbulence. That might mean flying at different altitudes, or flying a different route to minimize the impact of CAT.

For example, Hawaiian Airlines, uses an Eddy Dissipation Rate-based (EDR) global turbulence modeling system that provides visibility across all major flight levels. New advances in AviationSentry allow the EDR to be applied to any aircraft’s airframe-specific thresholds, including helicopters.

When pilots do encounter potential CAT in flight, they are better able to make better route decisions that steer aircraft in the most efficient route possible. For example, by having pinpoint accuracy in locating clear air turbulence, a pilot can modify the flight path slightly instead of having to go hundreds of miles off the original course.

Bumpier Flights Ahead

These new methods for detecting turbulence of any kind, especially CAT, are more important than ever before. A study from the University of Reading predicts that there could be a 149% increase in severe turbulence in the coming years, primarily due to stronger jet streams and the tendency for more “wavy” patterns to develop. Increasing wind speeds and stronger north-south temperature changes will only cause more issues for air travelers.

Next time you are on a smooth flight, you can thank the rapidly-advancing weather and flight planning technology for helping your pilot avoid detected turbulence. And, remember to keep your seat belt on, even when the seatbelt light goes off, if CAT occurs in flight you are safe and secure.