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Why air turbulence is normal but still dangerous

It may make us nervous or its effect on our flight can cause us to really get scared but in reality, there is nothing to worry about when we experience air turbulence, especially when you have your seatbelt on. Air turbulence is something we really experience when we fly and it is a normal occurrence especially during not so favorable weather conditions. Don't worry, your pilots are used to handling them.


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Let us go into defining air turbulence and what causes them.

Turbulence is caused when there is a disruption in air flow. So if your flight gets bumpy, it just means that there is a disruption of smooth air flow in the area that you are passing. To make things simpler to understand, think of a car running on the road. If the road is smooth, your car ride stays smooth. If there are humps or if the road is unpaved, your ride becomes rough.

An airplane runs on an invisible road in the sky also called air flow. If the flow is smooth, your flight stays smooth. If there are any disruptions in the flow of air, then your ride gets bumpy, but these are not dangerous situations.

We usually experience three levels of turbulence namely:
  • Light - rise and drop of only 1 meter
  • Moderate - rise and drop of about 3 - 6 meters. Drinks may spill.
  • Extreme - rise and drop of up to 30 meters. Passengers may get thrown off if not properly buckled-up.

Turbulence is very normal in a flight. Think of it that not all the time, our land terrain and sea are not stable, hence, we may experience violent movement there. Just like the oceans in the sea. The waters are not calm all the time. There are some that move violently which may cause the ship not to sail straight.

There are three causes of turbulence:
  1. Shear Turbulence - happens when there are two adjacent areas of air moving in different directions. The border between them can be a turbulence hotspot. A common cause of shear is jet flow from another airplane.
  2. Thermal Turbulence - Heat rises, so when it heads up through cooler air, you can end up with thermal turbulence.
  3. Mechanical - A large structure on the ground, a mountain, or other variation in the landscape can cause a sudden change in air flow.
Pilots are fully trained how to detect and handle turbulence. In the case of a Clear Air Turbulence of CAT, pilots are trained how to control the aircraft when they go through one. Most of the time, the aircraft's radar is able to detect places where there are possible turbulence and they do their best to avoid those areas. The aircraft is also built to withstand extreme air turbulence. Before being flown, the aircraft are tested even at the most extreme situation, even beyond its limits and boundaries. So don't worry, the aircraft's wing will not break-off nor will one engine fall.

When pilots detect turbulence, they instantly switch on the fasten seatbelt sign and it is mandated that passengers follow this in order for them not to sustain any injuries.

Is turbulence deadly? Yes it is, to those who do not follow safety instructions like the fasten seatbelt sign. There are already some passengers who were killed after they were thrown off their seats during extreme turbulence for not wearing their seatbelts. This is also another reason why it is recommended that we keep our seatbelts on during the flight.

Anyhow, all these will put you on a very low risk of turbulence-induced plane crash. Always remember though, your seatbelts are the best defense during turbulence.

Turbulence is a normal occurrence, but it is still dangerous if you are not well strapped.

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