Severe turbulence on flights may triple by 2050: study


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The expected turbulence increases are a consequence of global temperature changes.

Representational Image. (Photo: Pexels)

London: Severe mid-flight turbulence on routes around the globe may triple by 2050 due to climate change, increasing the risk of injury to passengers and crew, scientists, including one of Indian origin, warned today.

According to the first ever global projections of in- flight bumpiness, flights all around the world will be encountering lots more turbulence in future. The study led by the University of Reading in the UK analysed supercomputer simulations of the future atmosphere with a focus on clear-air turbulence, which is particularly hazardous because it is invisible.

The expected turbulence increases are a consequence of global temperature changes, which are strengthening wind instabilities at high altitudes in the jet streams and making pockets of rough air stronger and more frequent, researchers said. The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, calculated that climate change will significantly increase the amount of severe turbulence worldwide by 2050.

Severe turbulence involves forces stronger than gravity, and is strong enough to throw people and luggage around an aircraft cabin. "The study is another example of how the impacts of climate change can be felt through the circulation of the atmosphere, not just through increases in surface temperature itself," said Manoj Joshi, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

Flights to the most popular international destinations are projected to experience the largest increases, with severe turbulence at a typical cruising altitude of 39,000 feet becoming up to two or three times as common throughout the year over the North Atlantic (180 per cent), Europe (160 per cent), North America (110 per cent), the North Pacific (90 per cent), and Asia (60 per cent).

"Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change," said Paul Williams, professor at the University of Reading. "Our study highlights the need to develop improved turbulence forecasts, which could reduce the risk of injuries to passengers and lower the cost of turbulence to airlines," said Williams, who led the research.

The study also makes the first ever turbulence projections for the Southern Hemisphere and the tropical regions of the planet. The amount of airspace containing severe turbulence is calculated to increase over South America (60 per cent), Australia (50 per cent), and Africa (50 per cent).

"While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year," said Luke Storer, a PhD researcher who worked on the study. "It is also by far the most common cause of serious injuries to flight attendants. Turbulence is thought to cost US air carriers up to USD 200 million annually," said Storer. A previous study led by Williams revealed climate change will make transatlantic flights from Europe to North America longer in future.