Airlines Testing New Software To Avoid Extreme Turbulence, Cut Down On Costs And Injuries

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a terrible flyer — the slightest hint of a bumpy patch and I’ve got a death-grip on the arm rest. While pilots do everything they can to avoid hitting any kind of rough air, they’ll be getting a bit more help via new software designed for the sole purpose of allowing them to sidestep turbulence.

The Los Angeles Times reports that American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are using new software from Massachusetts-based firm WSI that transmits weather data from planes in the air to analysts on the ground, with the hope that the new information can help pilots prepare for or avoid the bumps, while also saving airlines the costly expenses tied to passenger injuries and plane damage.

The new system works by using software and sensors that relay information as a plane experiences turbulence and transmits it to other airlines.

“Pilots would typically give you the report after the turbulence had abated,” Des Keany, manager of flight planning and weather support for American Airlines, tells the Times. “Now, with this technology, the aircraft reports in real time.”

While the aim of the software is to decrease the number of injuries passengers and crew members suffer each year when planes encounter especially rough turbulence, it can also help to cut down on expenses for airlines.

According to the FAA, there have been between 12 and 76 injuries to travelers and airline personnel every year since 2002. Each instance of intense turbulence costs airlines, on average, between $28,000 and $167,000, a NASA Weather Accident Prevent Project found.

A rep for Alaska Airlines tells the L.A. Times that while the safety of passengers was its first priority when deciding to implement the new system, they also believe it can cut down on maintenance costs.

Typically, when a plane encounters turbulence, a pilot determines whether or not it was strong enough to require maintenance of the aircraft. At times, some pilots overestimate the damages and request unnecessary and costly inspections.

The sensors used in the new system can measure turbulence intensity and provide information on whether or not a plane requires inspection, the L.A. Times reports.

“This information is one piece of the puzzle in avoiding areas of turbulence,” a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines says.

In addition to the new turbulence measuring system, American Airlines has been issuing iPads to pilots to help them visualize inclement weather and potential areas of risk.

“The pilot can now see the routed flight plan and anything that’s along the track so they can determine where turbulence reports might be,” Keany said.

Another option airlines have started examining is a system by Iowa-based Rockwell Collins that can detect hazardous weather up to 320 nautical miles away. The sensors within the MultiScan ThreatTrack radar system can scan horizontally and vertically for potential threats and can predict turbulence from thunderstorms as they develop, the L.A. Times reports.

Airlines get new tools to avoid turbulence [The Los Angeles Times]

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