According to a study led by Reading University in the UK and published in Nature Climate Change turbulence is on the increase as a direct result of climate change.
The study concentrated on the North Atlantic corridor which sees 600 flights a day cross between the Americas and Europe. Results show that not only will turbulence be more severe, but the area affected by turbulent air will also increase.
The study is thought to be the first ever to research the future of aviation turbulence, despite there being a related – albeit difficult to calculate – cost for airlines. This cost is thought to be in the region of $150m (£100m) a year.
Any increase in turbulence would result in an increased fuel burn as pilots avoid bumpy air in order to prevent (expensive) injuries to passengers. The extra cost is likely to be passed on to the travelling public via increased airfares.
The scientists based models on a doubling of carbon dioxide in the climate, which could happen by 2050, and findings suggest an increase of 10-40% in the strength of turbulence, whereas the amount of airspace that’s likely to contain significant turbulence increases by 40-170% (with the most likely outcome around 100%).
So, double the airspace could be affected by 2050, and according to Dr Williams of Reading University;
The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8%.
Moderate or greater turbulence has a specific definition in aviation. It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on; it would be difficult to walk; drinks would get knocked over; you’d feel stain against your seatbelt.
So, from a fear of flying perspective, I have always said that turbulence has always existed, and always will. This doesn’t change the fact that you must learn everything you can about how normal turbulence is, and why it is perfectly safe.