Singapore Airlines | More severe air turbulence: an effect of climate change and why we should be concerned | WORLD


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This is no exaggeration. This week, Air Europa flight UX45, flying from Madrid to Montevideo with 325 passengers on board, had to make an emergency landing in northern Brazil after experiencing a “severe episode of turbulence.” Dozens of people were injured, most of them with bumps and bruises.

The incident involving the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner has raised further concerns given recent history. One of the most dramatic incidents occurred on May 21, when a 73-year-old British man died of a suspected heart attack after the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 he was travelling on experienced sudden extreme turbulence while en route from London to Singapore.

More than 100 passengers and crew were injured – there were 229 on flight SQ321 – mainly those who were not wearing seat belts and were thrown out and crashed into the cabin.

The interior of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321. (Reuters)

The interior of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321. (Reuters)

According to the report prepared by the Ministry of Transport of Singapore in collaboration with the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States, the plane fell violently 54 meters in 4.6 seconds. The images shared on social networks of how the objects were left inside the plane seem taken from a horror movie.

A week later, 12 people were injured during a similar event on a Qatar Airways Boeing 787-9 flight from Doha to Dublin, Ireland.

Again, the weather

Although such situations have been the exception rather than the rule in recent decades, recent research indicates that the strength of turbulence is increasing and that one of the main causes is climate change, specifically high carbon dioxide emissions that affect air currents.

These gases accumulate energy on the planet, mainly in the atmosphere. So, as the planet has more energy, the air circulation becomes more energetic and begins to have more intensity in some regions of the planet. This greater impulse of the winds is found precisely in the upper parts of the atmosphere, at 10,000 or 12,000 km of elevation, where airplanes make their journey.“, Christian Yarlequé, PhD in Atmospheric Sciences and professor at PUCP, tells El Comercio.

Longer duration

  • According to a 2023 study, the annual duration of clear air turbulence increased by 17% between 1979 and 2020, with the most severe cases increasing by more than 50%.
  • Between 2009 and 2022, 163 passengers and crew members on U.S.-registered aircraft were seriously injured in turbulence, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In practice, the main problem arises from dangerous clear air turbulence, which occurs when aircraft encounter turbulent atmospheric patterns that do not appear on radar because they are not associated with any storm.

This type of turbulence may become more frequent.“Yarlequé points out, adding that in recent decades global warming, which is an indicator of climate change, has increased in synchrony with turbulence.

Passenger Claudio Fernández recorded the damage to the Air Europa UX45 aircraft that made an emergency landing in Natal (Brazil) on Monday 1 after experiencing severe turbulence on the flight from Madrid to Montevideo. (Photo: AFP)

Passenger Claudio Fernández recorded the damage to the Air Europa UX45 aircraft that made an emergency landing in Natal (Brazil) on Monday 1 after experiencing severe turbulence on the flight from Madrid to Montevideo. (Photo: AFP)

/ CLAUDIO FERNANDEZ ARBES

And future projections indicate that warming will increase even more, so there will be greater changes in wind circulation, and it is highly likely that there will also be more occurrence and turbulence in flights because there will be more crosswinds, more intense winds. It also depends on the mitigation measures that we have on the planet to control this, but at least so far the projections indicate that climate change will produce more heat and possibly more intense winds.” explains the expert, who emphasizes that these phenomena are not homogeneous throughout the planet.

Safe journey

Aviation Captain Raúl Uribe Prkut, operational safety manager at the Peruvian School of Civil Aviation (ESPAC), believes that a catastrophic event associated with air turbulence is quite unlikely. “Turbulence is normal. What is abnormal is in the cycle, in time, now they are happening faster than before. That is the big problem.”

A TUI Airways passenger plane skidded off the runway at Leeds Bradford Airport in England after landing in the midst of an atypical storm in October last year. (Photo: Getty Images)

A TUI Airways passenger plane skidded off the runway at Leeds Bradford Airport in England after landing in the midst of an atypical storm in October last year. (Photo: Getty Images)

/ Danny Lawson – PA Images

He adds that turbulence does not represent a major challenge for pilots because aeronautics is one of the sciences that has advanced the fastest in the last 100 years thanks to information technology and digitalization.

Before going out to fly, one looks at the weather report. The weather is predictable because it is physical. The pilot may have certain more recurrent situations, but he will also have the most recurrent departures, which are based on technology.he points out.



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