Tur­bu­lence in­creas­ing

Re­searcher says air­lines need bet­ter de­tec­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ATLANTIC -

Ex­treme tur­bu­lence of the kind that in­jured seven peo­ple on a flight di­verted to New­found­land on Sun­day ap­pears on the rise, and air­lines need im­proved tech­nolo­gies to de­tect it, ac­cord­ing to a Bri­tish re­searcher.

“We need to take it (air tur­bu­lence) se­ri­ously,” said Paul Wil­liams, an at­mo­spheric sci­en­tist who has pub­lished pa­pers ar­gu­ing cli­mate change is likely to in­crease the amount of high­alti­tude tur­bu­lence.

“I think there is a com­pelling case that there’s an in­crease in tur­bu­lence and for in­vest­ment in im­prov­ing the de­tec­tion and pre­dic­tion of clear air tur­bu­lence,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view on Tues­day from his of­fice at the Univer­sity of Read­ing.

In Sun­day’s in­ci­dent, Amer­i­can Air­lines flight 206 was di­verted to St. John’s, N.L.

Pas­sen­gers de­scribed a last­ing bout of tur­bu­lence over the At­lantic that sud­denly de­vel­oped into dips so jar­ring that peo­ple were pray­ing for their lives.

The in­ci­dent comes just weeks af­ter air tur­bu­lence struck an Air Canada Boe­ing 777 fly­ing from China to Toronto, re­sult­ing in 21 in­juries to pas­sen­gers and the launch of a Trans­porta­tion Safety Board probe.

Last year, 31 peo­ple were in­jured in air tur­bu­lence events, up sharply from the sin­gle in­ci­dent in 2014 and the 15 cases in 2013, ac­cord­ing to Trans­port Canada.

Wil­liams co-pub­lished a 2013 pa­per in Na­ture Cli­mate Change that used a cli­mate change model to com­pare a pre-in­dus­trial cli­mate with one that con­tained dou­ble the amount of car­bon diox­ide, and make pre­dic­tions on long-term in­creases in air tur­bu­lence events over the North At­lantic.

The sci­en­tist says car­bon diox­ide is caus­ing a long-term trend to­wards tem­per­a­ture changes high in the at­mos­phere, in­clud­ing at the cruis­ing heights of air­lin­ers, and that is chang­ing wind pat­terns.

“In sci­en­tific terms, there is a wind shear. Dif­fer­ent lay­ers of the at­mos­phere are meet­ing at dif­fer­ent speeds and there is a kind of fric­tion and that causes clear air tur­bu­lence to break out,” said Wil­liams.

Wil­liams says many air­planes have tech­nol­ogy that can de­tect tur­bu­lence in clouds, but are less ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing tur­bu­lence in clear, higher skies.

A spokesman for Amer­i­can Air­lines con­firmed Sun­day’s in­juries came af­ter the air­plane hit clear air tur­bu­lence.


An am­bu­lance de­parts St. John’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Sun­day. Sev­eral pas­sen­gers and crew were taken to hos­pi­tal with un­spec­i­fied in­juries that oc­curred when their Amer­i­can Air­lines flight head­ing to Mi­lan from Mi­ami en­coun­tered se­vere tur­bu­lence.

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