The Telegraph (U.K.), Oct. 4, 2017
Commercial airliners will be buffeted by up to three times more turbulence in future decades, according to a new report.
Experts have warned the risk of mid-air injuries will rise and passengers can expect to spend more time confined to their seats with the seatbelt sign switched on due to rougher skies disturbed by climate change.
On some popular routes for UK travellers, such as transatlantic flights, instances of severe turbulence will increase by 180 per cent, while over Europe the rate is set to worsen by 160 per cent.
Scientists had already noticed that so-called clear-air turbulence (CAT) was on the rise, however the new study by the University of Reading is the first to come up with a comprehensive mathematical model predicting long-term global conditions.
It estimates that by 2050 the rate of inflight injuries will have almost tripled in line with the increased volume of turbulence.
The research team called for better forecasting systems allowing cabin crew to get their passengers seated and belted in time.
“Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons and at multiple cruising altitudes,” said Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Reading, who led the new study.
“This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change.”
CAT is the most troublesome type faced by airliners because it is invisible and cannot be detected on radar.
Global warming is increasing the phenomenon by strengthening wind instabilities at high altitudes in the jet streams and by making pockets of rough air stronger and more frequent.
Even severe turbulence is all but incapable of threatening the survival of a commercial aircraft, however it can cause injury to those on board.
In June, 20 people were injured, including some with broken bones and head wounds, when a China Eastern Airlines flight from Paris to South West China struck heavy turbulence.
The overall number of casualties recorded globally each year is in the low hundreds, however experts believe this is due to under-reporting of minor injuries and the true number is significantly higher.Last month the manufacturer Boeing announced it was preparing to test a new laser technology allowing pilots to detect CAT up to ten miles away, although given the 550 mph cruising speed of most passenger jets, this would only give about 60 seconds’ notice.
“Unless aviation meteorologists become better at forecasting patches of turbulence, passengers will face increased discomfort levels from in-flight bumpiness and an increased risk of injury,” said Professor Williams.
“Air travellers can expect the amount of time they spend flying through turbulence confined to their seats to double or maybe even treble on some routes.”
Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the study predicted that severe turbulence over North America will increase by 110 per cent from 2050, 90 per cent over the North Pacific and 60 per cent over Asia.
The model also include the first turbulence predictions for the Southern Hemisphere and tropical regions of the planet, estimating an increase in severe turbulence over South America of 60 per cent, and Australia and Africa of 50 per cent.
Aircraft are currently thought to spent about three per cent of their cruising time in light intensity CAT, and about 1 per cent in turbulence of moderate intensity.
Dr Manoj Joshi, who co-authored the research from the University of East Anglia, said: “This study is another example of how the impacts of climate change can be felt through the circulation of the atmosphere, not just through the increases in surface temperature itself.”