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.
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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.