It is “one of the last really big hazards” in air travel
Wind turbulence can jolt even biggest aircraft without warning, giving passengers serious injuries if they are at that moment without seatbelts. Air travel is arguably safer than it has ever been. But turbulence can jolt a plane by several metres during landing or take-off and a hundred metres while cruising. More than 10 people a year, and at least 63 since 2007, suffer serious injuries in the air due to turbulence, from broken ankles to fracturing ribs to torn ligaments. Many more get minor injuries. Planes are damaged too.
“It’s the last of the unanticipated threats,” Christopher Herbster, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida says. “It’s one of the last really big hazards for things you don’t know are out there.”
Despite the use of air-movement detection equipment, pilots warning other pilots about fast-changing weather conditions and airlines’ precautions to avoid thunderstorms by, say, 25 kilometres, it is often down to the captain to judge how long to keep the seatbelt sign lit. But frustrated passengers will probably ignore it if it’s left on for too long.
[pictured: Wake Vortex Study; courtesy NASA]