Airlines Getting Closer to Reducing Clear Air Turbulence

By Boston Chauffeur

At one time or another, fliers experience the sudden and scary sensation of clear air turbulence. This is especially true for business travelers who frequently traverse North America and fly overseas.

Airlines have long grappled with this problem, according to Forbes Magazine. The magazine reported CAT is virtually impossible to detect with onboard instruments or the naked eye, making it difficult, if not impossible, for a pilot to avoid.

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The magazine reported that all turbulence can be dangerous and expensive. Forbes Magazine noted that during the cruise stages of flight, CAT can cause the aircraft to buffet hundreds of feet, sending items flying around the cabin, injuring passengers and crew.

Such was the case onboard Delta Air Flight 573 in February. Five passengers were injured when the aircraft experienced CAT some 34,000 feet in the air over Nevada, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.

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Passengers told the Daily Mail that the plane, which was en route from Seattle to Santa Ana, Calif., nosedived twice sending drinks from the beverage cart and overhead bags hurtling inside the cabin. Three passengers were taken to the hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Reno, according to the newspaper.

What causes CAT?

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Forbes Magazine reported that CAT is usually caused by the rapid change in wind speeds around the edges of the jet stream. CAT tends to be more of an issue during the winter months but can occur anywhere, anytime.

Forbes Magazine cited a study from the University of Reading which predicts that there could be a 149 percent 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.

The magazine also reported the cost of turbulence is estimated at more than $500 million each year in damage and delays.

Forbes Magazine also reported that airlines want to level the playing field with CAT by investing in new technology systems that can help them better detect turbulence and made needed adjustments. The magazine reported that given the fact that CAT often occurs in cloudless environments, it is impossible to physically see and extremely difficult to detect using onboard radar equipment.

Forbes Magazine reported that airlines are investing in systems from private weather companies that can detect CAT. For example, Hawaiian Airlines uses an Eddy Dissipation Rate-based (EDR) global turbulence modeling system that provides visibility across all major flight levels. As this technology evolves, pilots will be able to adjust their flight plans and reduce the incidence of CAT.

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