Professor ponders, 'Could climate change be the cause of increasing airline turbulence?'

The airline industry has had numerous incidents this year, but some of the scariest incidents have been severe turbulence where unbuckled passengers fly out of their seats to a variety of injuries and, recently, one death.

Turbulence has impacted aircraft ever since the Wright Brothers first flew. The question is, is it getting worse?

A dozen people, six passengers and six crew members, were injured when a "Qatar Airways" jetliner encountered severe turbulence over Turkey. Eight required hospitalization.

Last week, Singapore Airlines flight hit severe turbulence that caused the death of one passenger and seriously injured dozens of others suffered serious injuries. That forced an emergency landing in in Thailand.

Last year, turbulence on a Lufthansa flight from Texas to Germany injured seven passengers. That forced the plane to divert to Virginia. 

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts looked at weather data from four decades.

British Professor Paul Williams announced the findings. "I'll be explaining how climate change could cause a lot more turbulence on your flight in the future, how your flight times could get longer due to changes in the headwinds and the tail winds and how planes could find it harder to take off and even be struck more frequently by lightning," said Prof. Williams.

The study found that invisible severe or extreme clear air turbulence, especially over the U.S. and the North Atlantic, were 55% more frequent in 2020 than they were in 1979. The National Weather Service says clear air turbulence happens above 15,000 feet, most frequently during the winter months.   


Qatar Airways turbulence leaves 12 hurt on flight to Dublin

Turbulence on a Qatar Airways flight injured 12 people, sending eight of them to the hospital, authorities said.

In a follow-up study, the scientists predicted that turbulence in the Northern Hemisphere's middle latitudes could triple in the next 30 to 60 years. Back in 2020, a group of China-based scientists essentially agreed.

All of this is predicted by how many greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere. Retired international airline pilot Captain Richard Levy says the study doesn't make sense to him. "The temperature at 35,000 feet, to make it simple: about 32 degrees below zero. Four degrees is not gonna make any difference," said Captain Levy.

From 2009 to 2022, the NTSB reported 163 "serious injuries" from turbulence, about one a month. That number will come down as better detection methods already in existence are refined and more sophisticated radars come online.