Turbulence Airplanes Can Experience in Flight - KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

Turbulence Airplanes Can Experience in Flight

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The United Airlines plane that experienced significant turbulence on Monday left the Billings Logan International Airport Wednesday morning. The flight attendant injured on the flight remains in the hospital.

A United Airlines spokeswoman says the National Transportation Safety Board is still working with its flight safety inspectors to analyze the flight data. They say they are still in the process of reviewing the event and cannot comment any further. We took a closer look at what kinds of turbulence airplanes encounter.

"It happens all the time and it depends on when you're flying, what level you're flying at, it does happen occasionally to become a surprise," said Marc Singer, science and operations officer at National Weather Service. "Most pilots are aware of what they're about to encounter."

Monday's flight from Denver to Billings experienced such significant turbulence, it shook passengers and caused five injuries. The National Weather Service says clear air and mountain wave turbulence are common in our area. Clear air turbulence happens when a smooth flow of air is disrupted by eddies or wind. Mountain wave turbulence happens when a pocket of air or sudden rush of air goes up over and down a mountain and a plane gets caught in a mountain wave. When an airplane encounters either, they experience turbulence. But, the high winds this season could contribute too.

"You know we have influences from the polar jet coming down, especially in this part of the country and mountain waves are much more common in the winter time," Singer said. "Predicting turbulence over a very small fraction of that air space is a very difficult challenge. We have models that can give us an idea of where turbulence may occur but again it's such a fine scale it's difficult to accurately predict that."

Singer said pilots send out pilot reports if they do hit turbulence or weather events while flying, to help the national weather service predict turbulence accurately and prepare other pilots.

Ian Gregor, a spokesperson with the FAA says after an aircraft experiences significant turbulence, the FAA would typically ensure the aircraft is airworthy before allowing the operator to return it to service, review the carrier's reports on the incident and interview crew and passengers. He also said the NTSB also could investigate if the turbulence resulted in serious injuries.

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