What is it like to fly a plane during turbulence?

Charlotte Edwards,BBC business reporter

Reuters Singapore Airlines plane seen landing on a runwayReuters

For passengers on board flight SQ321 from London to Singapore, it was a terrifying experience when the plane was hit by severe turbulence.

A 73-year-old Briton, Geoff Kitchen, died of a suspected heart attack, while dozens more were injured.

Turbulence occurs when an airplane collides with air currents, causing it to suddenly roll, pitch, or plunge. It is said to be becoming more common. due to climate change.

The pilots told the BBC that severe turbulence events of this type are extremely rare and described what they do and how they react when they hit.

Captain Chris Hammond, a retired pilot whose career spans 43 years, told the BBC that when a plane experiences turbulence, pilots have to put on a full harness and “think of an announcement that doesn’t bother the passengers too much.” a lot”.

“If you can see it coming, you can take it easy…if there’s turbulence in the clear air, you’ve got to keep your fingers crossed,” he said.

“Clear air” turbulence, as the name suggests, has no clouds and cannot be seen. It is much more problematic because it is very difficult to detect.

Emma Henderson, a former airline captain, explained that pilots can usually be warned or detect signs that turbulence is coming.

He said that in the case of the London to Singapore flight, it was “definitely much more likely” that the pilot had received little warning.

“Not because it is over the sea, but rather because of the lack of flights around it.

“So if you’re flying in a busy European airspace, for example, and there’s turbulence, the pilots will talk to each other,” he explained.

“When you fly in a place where there are very few airplanes around, that information is not available, so these things can happen without warning.”

Captain Henderson noted that the seat belt signs on the flight had just turned on, so there must have been some indication that turbulence was approaching.

She doesn’t believe there would have been an opportunity to give further warning.

Both Captains Henderson and Hammond have emphasized that severe turbulence was a very infrequent occurrence.

Captain Hammond, who is also a member of the British Airlines Pilots Association, said turbulence does not scare him, but admitted it did cause him some concern early in his career.

Before I thought “how much can the plane carry?” But now he knows how much airplanes can handle, adding that “the wings are supposed to flap up and down.”

Captain Hammond said the Singapore Airlines plane route is normally no more difficult to navigate than any other.

“It was daylight and, as far as I know, it was mid-afternoon, so that’s when you’d expect the maximum clouds to form, but they’re the ones you can see pretty easily on radar.

“If you see a storm in front of you, you go around it. You don’t go through it under any circumstances,” he told BBC’s The World Tonight.

“If you can’t avoid it completely, then you should take precautions.”

Although turbulence injuries are rare, they can be serious and fatal.

“Injuries from severe turbulence are relatively rare in the context of millions of flights operated. However, severe turbulence can be dramatic and lead to serious injury or, sadly, in this case, a death,” aviation expert John Strickland told BBC’s World at One.

He stressed that the planes are built to “withstand severe turbulence” and that all crew on board are trained on how they should respond to it.

“Weather reports and radar are used to avoid known turbulence, but there are times when this is not predictable,” Strickland said.

The expert added that some parts of the world are “more prone to turbulence.”

He said flying over the South Atlantic, over Africa and the Bay of Bengal may be more prone to turbulence, according to his knowledge.

“It’s not for nothing that airlines recommend keeping seat belts loose throughout the entire flight, whether long or short,” Strickland said.

Seat belts are the safety measure that both pilots put the most emphasis on.

Captain Hammond also highlighted the importance of receiving safety briefings before the flight.

“Listen, and if the cabin crew speaks to you in that slightly louder voice: do as they tell you,” he added.

“The actual aircraft can withstand quite extreme forces,” Captain Henderson said.

“This should be really reassuring for anyone. The planes are very strong and the pilots made a safe landing and that was the end result of this flight.”

Mrs Henderson said that “the most important thing is the seat belts” and they make a difference.

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