How To Reduce Air Travel Injuries By Fixing One Backwards System

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the number one cause of air travel injuries is turbulence – and there’s a way for planes to avoid turbulence far more often, according to Aviation Policy News.

This may not be surprising, but the last time the NTSB did a deep dive on the issue was 50 years ago. And they found that current weather reports from pilots are inadequate.

  • These are reports created during flight and shared with air traffic control
  • But there’s no common standard to communicate how seriousness turbulence actually is
  • And if reports are submitted, it’s usually after the aircraft is well past it – for good reason, but this means the information isn’t available to help others in real time.
  • Air traffic controllers often don’t deal with these reports right away in any case.

This all means that planes aren’t getting notified about turbulent situations that have already been experienced by other aircraft. So the NTSB says the process needs to be automated. This means measuring actual conditions using technology and communicate in standard metrics

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends one that uses onboard software to collect real-time data on airspeed and angle of attack and then calculates an eddy dissipation rate, or EDR (comparable to the height of a wave in the ocean). Several commercial systems are available to do this, but they apparently are proprietary.

Global airline organization IATA favors shifting to an open-source EDR developed by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, with the cooperation of Delta, Southwest, and United. Called Turbulence Aware, it lets airlines create a turbulence reporting system that will automatically report any EDR higher than a pre-set value and report it to the ground (airline dispatchers). But such messages could also be sent automatically to air traffic control so that controllers could warn following aircraft. Boeing already offers the software for this on its new planes, and it is also available for retrofit. Turbulence Aware is currently in use by 15 operators encompassing 1,500 aircraft.

The NTSB wants the FAA to encourage airlines to adopt Turbulence Aware, reducing the burden on pilots and controllers and providing better information to aircraft in order to reduce inflight injuries.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There actually are turbulence definitions, though some way of automatically quantifying them would be better. Look up: The 6 Types Of Turbulence, And How To Report Each One

    Obviously a lot of this depends on aircraft size. Playing ping pong ball in my one seat sailplane is much rougher than being in the same turbulence in a 757. Unfortunately as with so much else in commercial aviation the companies treat passengers like idiots and don’t explain that the aircraft are well designed for such routine stresses. And with that attitude towards their customers they wonder why people act crazy on planes. (Actually I want the bouncing around as it shows there’s good lift to circle in, but then I’m not waiting for a drink either.)

    The best answer is to wear your seat belt all the time. Despite the equipment mentioned in this article turbulence is still somewhat unpredictable, and likely always will be.

  2. This is why I oppose drinks being poured in cups in economy or pe. Little plastic coke bottles and water bottles are much safer as they can be closed after sip and stored for later. If they fall off the tray (if not put into the pocket), no spill or mess. Business or transcon first affords more room for glasses but the indentations (if present) on top of the compartment are often not deep enough. I only drink water on planes so let the next guy spill his drink in his own compartment.

    FAs spilling hot coffee or tea is another matter. There have been cases.

  3. There is already a Waze type app for turb using the iPad inertial sensor and it’s a lot cheaper and simpler to utilize than this solution. I use it all the time, the trick is getting more than 50-100 aircraft to be using it at once. Real time info on conditions at specific altitudes. It’s great.

  4. Moderate turbulence happens when blue juice sloshes out of the aircraft lavatory and rolls down the aisle. However, flight attendants covered in blue juice (and looking like the Blue Man Group) have experienced severe turbulence.

  5. There are automated turbulence reporters in many airliners now. Your reference is out of date.

  6. I’m glad I don’t frequently ride an airplane. I can only imagine how long it would take to settle an iaaue with an airline, if I was to get injured as a passenger. Sometimes, a person is better off either driving or taking Amtrak. Agree?

  7. For years, Delta has had a turbulence reporting system (inherited from NWA) that is shared with all Delta planes. Dispatch routes planes away from reports and those already in flight can change altitude to lessen chance of major turbulence. This has resulted in a far less rate of injury. Nothing is perfect……

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