You are 10 kilometres up in the air. The skies are grey-black. Bolts of lightening are juddering your plane. Fasten your seatbelts and…relax! A commercial airline pilot lays all your fears to rest. Over to the captain, right from the cockpit.
Q. Monsoons are around the corner. Are the skies going to turn dangerously turbulent?
A. Not really. Turbulence occurs when there is a sudden change of wind direction AND wind speed in the airspace where the aircraft is flying. This can happen in absolutely clear skies as well and is called CAT( Clear Air Turbulence). In fact, most cases of severe air turbulence have been associated with CAT. During monsoons turbulence does increase when flying through certain type of clouds. Pilots usually avoid flying through such clouds by taking diversions left/ right as the width of these clouds is not much. Finally, even if these clouds are entered the turbulence can be graded as moderate and a bit uncomfortable but by no means dangerous.
Q. What if lightning strikes a plane?
A. Modern day aeroplanes are heavily protected against lightening strikes in their design itself. Moreover, pilots are trained to avoid areas where lightening occurs with the help of onboard weather radars. In the unlikely event of an actual lightening strike, only superficial damage on the aircraft surface, especially the nose area, can be expected. The passengers can expect to hear a loud bang and see lightening but the aircraft is fully flyable.
Q. When you encounter a rough patch in the sky, your reaction is…
A. As long as your seat belt is on, rough weather is just uncomfortable and not dangerous.
Q. Are certain sectors more prone to turbulence than others? For instance, flying over mountains/sea?
A. At high altitudes where the aeroplanes normally cruise, the affect of terrain below has no significance. However, when coming in to land or during takeoff, with high terrain around you can expect more than normal turbulence because terrain has significant affect on the wind pattern.
Q. Is daytime flying less turbulent and safer than night-time?
A. Actually it is the opposite. Night flying is much smoother than day flying due to pure meteorological reasons.
Q. Ever had a scary/dramatic experience related to turbulence in the sky? Tell us about it!
A. Fortunately haven’t experienced any scary situation due to turbulence but have heard (during our regular training classes) of passengers getting hurt in severe turbulence. But as I said earlier as long as you have your seat belts ‘on’ and loose articles packed the chances of any injury are negligible.
Q. Your tips for nervous fliers…
A. Flying through turbulence is an unavoidable part of air travel and there is never a need to be scared of it. Always keep your seat belt ‘on’ when instructed to do so. In fact, even when the seat belt sign is ‘off’ keep them loosely fastened to cater for small turbulent air pockets for which there may not be enough time for the captain to caution you.
Enjoy the monsoons from 35000ft…
NOTE:- As per airline guidelines, the pilot’s identity has been kept confidential.