Pilots’ Deep Dive into the World of Turbulence

Recent incidents have not only shocked and disturbed travellers.


In May, both Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines experienced severe turbulence during their flights, which resulted in multiple injuries among both crew members and passengers.

Tragically, the incident on Singapore Airlines led to the death of one passenger.

A detailed extraction of the turbulence was published in the article, which inspired this interview. Two pilots representing EU (Pilot B) and non-EU (Pilot A) airlines graciously agreed to spill the beans about everything related to turbulence.

But What Are The Pilots’ Thoughts On This?

How often do you encounter turbulence during flights?

 Pilot A: “Most of the time, all of my flights. There are usually some light chops.”

Pilot B: “Quite often, depending on the location of operations it can be more or less frequent and more or less severe.”


What is the most severe turbulence you have ever experienced as a pilot?

Pilot B: “A few years back operating over Warsaw, aircraft altitude increased by 300 feet in 1 second.”


How are pilots trained to handle turbulence?

 Pilot A: “You learn about turbulence, and how to detect when to expect in ground lessons. The main pilot’s priority is to keep the aircraft flying. Pilots always work for the aircraft to fly, and stay within structural and speed limits.”

Pilot B: “They are trained to identify the potential presence of turbulence and specific actions to be performed if turbulence is encountered. These actions vary from airline to airline and even between aircraft types within the same airline.”


Are there specific regions or altitudes where turbulence is more common?  

 Pilot A: “Different types of turbulence include mechanical, wake, wave, clear air, and frontal.

For example, you can expect turbulence when flying over Alp’s due to mountain wave turbulences, or taking off from busy airports due to wake turbulence, when approaching an airport between mountainous areas, in some parts of Africa.”

Pilot B: “Turbulence is quite often found over the Alps and in southern regions due to high convective action and presence of CB clouds (Cumulonimbus clouds bring thunderstorms). Also, turbulence is often found in the vicinity of Jetstreams. Some airports have turbulence due to nearby mountains, causing mountain waves.”


How has your perspective on turbulence changed from when you first started flying to now?

Pilot A: “I have flown for a few years now, and there is a slight difference. In my view, the main reason is that there is no spring or autumn, especially this year. Winter came in and then Summer came in one day. 15 degrees Celcius changes occurred in one day. Those steep changes in weather are effective on turbulence.”

Pilot B: “It didn’t. Never was feared and still isn’t. But with a global increase of temperature and climate changes, it can be expected that turbulence will become more frequent more severe and less predictable.”

How do weather conditions impact the likelihood of encountering turbulence?

 Pilot A: “Turbulence usually is more common on hot days, compared to cold days. Due to the air is less stable. Turbulence is an irregular air motion resulting from many different things. Season-change months (spring/autumn) are more likely to encounter turbulence on extremely hot days.”

Pilot B: If there are CBs in the vicinity of the aerodrome turbulence can be expected. Also, high temperatures and atmosphere instability can cause turbulence. If an airport is located in the valley or next to the mountain and the wind blows over mountains, turbulence can be expected.”


 What specific manoeuvres or procedures do you follow when you encounter turbulence? 

 Pilot A: “The first procedure is to avoid if there is a known area with turbulence. But you have to get in, There are specific speeds and altitudes which are determined according to your weight. When you encounter turbulence, according to its intensity, you keep it at those preplanned speeds and altitudes.”

Pilot B: Secure cabin for turbulence. On my type reduced/increased speed to turbulence penetration speed which is normally in the middle between overspeed and stall speed. Use full automation but pilot interference may required if autopilot action/corrections are not sufficient.”


How does the training simulate real-life turbulence conditions?

 Pilot A: “There is no training on simulator flight in turbulence while on a cruise. Since it is not a dangerous phase of flight. But there are approaches and take-offs in gusty, turbulent weather conditions to get used to it. Full motion simulators are very close to real life.”

Pilot B: “Turbulence is simulated in a simulator environment but does not represent actual conditions 100%”


How do you ensure the safety of passengers and crew during turbulence?

 Pilot A: “When turbulence is expected beforehand, we have different types of communication with the cabin. We turn on the seat belt signs and make the turbulence announcements in the cabin. We expect all of our passengers to be seated and belts buckled. When the condition is more severe, we contact a cabin chief to secure everything and seat all the cabin crew. But sometimes there are unexpected Clear Air Turbulence. In particular phases of flight, there are announcements for passengers advising passengers to keep the safety belt on, even if the seat belt signs are off.”

Pilot B: “Cabin secure procedure, preventive actions and avoidance of areas of expected turbulence.”


What measures are taken to minimize the impact of turbulence on passenger comfort?  

 Pilot A: “We usually prefer to avoid turbulence because of passenger comfort, but sometimes you have to get in it even if you are aware there will be turbulence.”

Pilot B: “Avoidance and preventive cabin preparation. Passenger comfort is a secondary issue when it comes to turbulence. Turbulence can not always be predicted. Safety comes first. Some turbulence can not be avoided.”


 Are there specific features in aircraft that help manage turbulence better?

 Pilot A: “Of course! Some computer-oriented flight controls lower the effects of turbulence.”

Pilot B: “Seat Belts Sign switch and Weather Radar. But weather radar is limited. It can not detect clear air turbulence and can only identify turbulence areas within clouds. No clouds no turbulence indication.”


 How do you use weather forecasts and reports to anticipate turbulence?

 Pilot A: “We plan our route, altitude and fuel accordingly.”

Pilot B: “Significant weather charts suggest areas of possible turbulence as well as other pilot reports. These are reports from pilots operating in your vicinity and flight levels. If another pilot reports moderate or severe turbulence on a specific level, we tend to avoid that level. But it can not always be avoided.”


What tools or technologies are available in the cockpit to detect and avoid turbulence?

 Pilot A: “It starts with forecasts which are provided before our flight, then we have weather radars equipped in our aircraft which we can detect some kinds of turbulence. Finally, pilots report the turbulence to air traffic controllers and the controllers to inform other aircraft en route.”


Are there any myths about turbulence that you would like to debunk?  

 Pilot A: “Have one! When you hit the seat belt ON switch, it usually decreases the density of the turbulence and when you push back OFF, it starts again.”

Pilot B: “It would take a lot of turbulence to down an aircraft. Planes are designed to withstand even severe turbulence.”


What advice would you give to passengers who are anxious about turbulence?

 Pilot A: “Think of that as an arcade and keep your seat belt always on! It is just an environmental occurrence and not dangerous when you keep your seat belt on!”

Pilot B: “Turbulence is nothing to fear. It has never caused a single loss of aircraft. Wear your seatbelt always when you are seated and all will be fine.”

I appreciate Pilots for sharing this information with our readers.

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