“We are now crossing a zone of turbulence. Please return your seats and keep your seat belts fastened”.

Turbulence

There is no scarier feeling than being confined to an airplane…and having it shake uncontrollably while 40, 000 feet in the air. However, with the continuous improvements of new travel technology, turbulence could soon become easier to detect and therefore avoidable.

 

Can technology beat turbulence?

Beginning next year, Boeing will be testing new travel technology in the hopes of detecting severe clear-air turbulence, which can often cause harm to both the aircraft and its passengers. This is the most dangerous type of turbulence because it occurs without any visual clues, such as clouds, making it more difficult to detect and evade.1

 

Clear-air turbulence is the most dangerous type of turbulence. It occurs without any visual clues. Click To Tweet

 

The technology Boeing is set to test is called lidar — light detection and ranging technology — which works by projecting a continuous laser light from the nose of the airplane. A software then compares the airplane’s movement in relation to the movement of the surrounding particles reflected by the laser.2

“We expect to be able to spot clear-air turbulence more than 60 seconds ahead of the aircraft…giving the crew enough time to secure the cabin and minimize the risk of injuries,” said Stefan Bieniawski, Boeing’s senior engineer.

With this technology, pilots will be alerted of any upcoming disturbance so that they can maneuver the airplane to avoid it completely, or at least provide the cabin crew with enough warning time to secure any potentially harmful objects, like hot pots of coffee, and minimize potential injuries by bracing passengers for the upcoming commotion.1

 

Which technology will perform best?

Though the 60-second warning might not be enough time for pilots to completely avoid the turbulence, it is still a major improvement over the current methods for detecting it. As it stands right now, pilots are reliant on reports from other airplanes flying similar routes, as well as general knowledge of surrounding active weather systems. Airports also have ground-based systems for turbulence and wind speed detection, however they’re extremely large (the size of a truck!) and cannot be supported on any aircrafts.1

Boeing is collaborating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the developers of the lidar system.3 However, lidar is just one of the technologies Boeing is set to test in the upcoming year. Now that engineers have created smaller detection systems that can easily fit on airplanes, Boeing is also set to test over thirty other technologies on board a FedEx owned 777 airplane over a six-week period.3

 

Are we in for a bumpy future?

These new technological advancements are being tested at the perfect time. According to the Federal Aviation Association, the number of turbulence related injuries has more than doubled in 2016, going from 21 to 44 — and that number doesn’t include the less serious injuries. Research also shows that clear-air turbulence is expected to worsen, both in severity and frequency, due to climate change.4

 

Research shows that clear-air turbulence is expected to worsen due to climate change. Click To Tweet

 

If all goes well during the test period, Boeing hopes the lidar system could be used by commercial airlines in just a few years.1

 

Will lidar win everyone’s hearts?

However, not everyone is as optimistic, or enthusiastic, about the lidar system.

“Sixty seconds notice? And then what do the pilots do?” a Dreamliner pilot told MailOnline. “They can’t climb or descend as staying level is what gives them separation from other aircraft[s]. And ‘going round it’ with a turn? Most turbulence areas are many miles long. It sounds like an interesting toy, but the end of turbulence…no way!”3

 

Do you think turbulence will ever be a thing of the past? We want to know!

 

Sources

  1. Wired: Boeing planes could fire lasers from their noses to spot turbulence by Eric Adams
  2. Travel + Leisure: Boeing to test a new technology that could end turbulent flights for good by Stacey Leasca
  3. MailOnline: Is this finally the end of bumpy fights? by James Draper
  4. CNN: Climate change expected to make turbulence stronger and more frequent by Brandon Miller

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