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Flight turbulence is going to get worse, and on the busiest routes

Air turbulence is going to get worse, across the globe, in the years ahead. And a new study published on October 3 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that this weather phenomenom will especially affect airliners flying the busiest routes across Earth’s midlatitudes.

The scientific team from the universities of Reading and East Anglia had previously reported the projected increase over transatlantic routes during the winter months. Their new computer model goes much further, simulating incoming clear-air turbulence patterns over “all eight geographic regions, two flight levels, and all four seasons.” They also established five strength categories and found that the strongest category will rise the most.

Clear-air turbulence occurs when air currents at very different speeds meet at one point. They are especially dangerous to aircraft because they are invisible. These atmospheric rollercoaster rides can’t really be avoided because they are not associated with visual clues like clouds and can’t be detected by onboard instruments. And while they may not take an airplane down, they can wreak havoc inside the cabin. Co-author Luke Storer claims that “it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year […] Turbulence is thought to cost United States air carriers up to $200 million annually.” Perhaps Elon Musk’s crazy zero-turbulence rocketline plan doesn’t sound so crazy after all.

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