Wednesday, 29 July 2009 15:04
Hi Captain Lim,
I love your site, it's very useful. I wish there were more sites like yours. I, like many people who cruise by your site, really hate flying, because of turbulence. After decades of flying, I still hate air travel; therefore I will like to take this opportunity to ask you a few silly questions. Hope you don't mind:
Q1: What can pilots do if they encounter turbulence that is not seen on radar... Are there any ways to avoid those types of turbulence (they have been popping up all over the news)?
Q2: In terms of lightning, I know modern jets are designed to absorb it, but some infos that I have come across mentions that positive charged lightning can destroy an aircraft. Is that true? & if so, what can pilots do to avoid getting into those situations?
Q3: Under current economic climates, do you think that pilots may have less leverage to operate on their preferred routes?
Thank you for giving me the opportunities to ask and looking forward for your response
A1: When caught in turbulence that is not tracked on the radar, pilots would do what you would do when you suddenly drive over many potholes on the road that you did not see! Yes, we would slow down, put on the “Fasten Seat Belts" signs if not already on, then avoid as necessary.
Normally, most turbulence is associated with thunderstorms and these are easily seen on the radar. Yes, the radar is the most important equipment on board the plane for weather tracking and pilots would not fly with unserviceable radar at night! The only way to avoid thunderstorm and consequently turbulence, is to reroute. Sometimes the thunderstorm activity is so massive that it is impossible to avoid them totally. Pilots would then have to fly through by choosing the least intense area that can be easily seen on the radar. Inevitably, there would be some turbulence experienced.
A2: Lightning is also an activity that is associated with thunderstorm. Of course, there are many stories about the dangers of this activity. As I have written about this topic many times in the past, I would reproduce one below:
“Lightning, though fearsome, is not exactly dangerous to the airplanes. Even if there is a direct strike, it does not penetrate the cabin nor affect the engines or fuel tanks. In fact, statistics have shown that an airplane is struck by lightning at least once a year whilst some would be hit more frequently and others not at all.
What happens is, when an airplane is struck by a thunderbolt, the electrical charges just traverse the length of the aircraft and exit through the static wicks at the trailing edges of the flaps or tail plane. The next time you happen to sit by a window seat behind the wings, just look out for these static wicks. They are like painting brushes with fine hairs sticking out at the end of the flaps.
What is the effect of a lightning strike on the airplane's body anyway? As far as I know or experienced; nothing very serious really… You may get some small burnt marks on the fuselage skin at the point of impact. Normally, the pilot would be aware of such a strike. He would report this incident to the engineers after landing for further inspection and rectification.”
Think what you may, but anything can happen when you start to read about possible extreme cases in the internet. As far as pilots are concerned, they would avoid thunderstorms and its associated lightning whenever possible.
A3: Safety is paramount over costs! This philosophy is adopted by all safety-conscious airlines. I do not see any airlines taking action against a pilot for rerouting reasonably to avoid weather. On this note, I have just done that by flying 150 nautical miles off the thunderstorm over the Bay of Bengal recently.