• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

What is aviation turbulence and how dangerous can it be when it happens?

flights

Significant turbulence on a Singapore Airlines flight resulted in the death of a British man and 30 injuries.

The Singapore-bound Boeing 777-300ER from London was rerouted to Bangkok, where it touched down at 3.45pm local time (8.45am GMT).
After crossing the Bay of Bengal, the aircraft appears to have fallen 6,000ft (2,000 metres) in a couple of minutes, according to flight-monitoring data.

The airline announced in a statement that Flight SQ 321 was carrying 211 passengers and 18 crew members in total.

The victim was a 73-year-old British man, who “likely” died from a heart attack, according to airport authorities in Bangkok.

Seven individuals are critically hurt.
A passenger reported to the Reuters news agency that the plane began “tilting up and there was shaking” out of nowhere, with passengers who were not wearing seatbelts thrown into the overhead compartments.

One passenger, Andrew Davies, a father-of-two from Lewisham in south-east London, said on X, “My heart goes out to the gentleman who lost his life and his poor wife. Awful experience.”
But what is turbulence and how dangerous is it?

What is turbulence?
Turbulence refers to sporadic air movement that results in unpredictable variations in the plane’s altitude or angle, giving passengers the sensation of being tossed around or bumped.

Turbulence can be caused by weather fronts, storms, air near mountains, and atmospheric pressure, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Turbulence is frequently caused by jet streams, which are strong, narrow bands of wind in the upper atmosphere.

How dangerous is turbulence?
Injuries from turbulence are very rare.
Only three per cent of the atmosphere has light turbulence, one per cent has moderate, and a few tenths of a percent has severe turbulence at any given time at flight cruising heights.
According to FAA data, out of the millions of individuals who fly annually, turbulence caused significant injuries to 30 passengers and 116 crew members between 2009 and 2021.
However, there is always a chance of dangerous turbulence.

Clear-air turbulence, which lacks any apparent warning and frequently happens when pilots fail to switch on the fasten seatbelt indicator, is one of the most dangerous types of turbulence.
“It’s completely invisible to the naked eye, to the radar, to satellites. The only information we have about it, really, is when a plane goes through it,” says Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading, who researches turbulence.

Increased jet-stream instability and greater wind speeds due to climate change will result in increased turbulence even in clear skies. Williams concluded that, by 2050, pilots worldwide should expect to experience at least twice as much severe clear-air turbulence.

How can passengers avoid getting hurt during turbulence?
By wearing their seatbelts at all times, passengers can easily avoid getting hurt in unexpected turbulence.
Respect the carry-on baggage policies of your airline to avoid injuries sustained during travel.

Read the safety briefing card and pay attention to the safety briefing at the start of your flight.