No matter how regularly we fly, encountering turbulence on flights is par for the course and can cause problems. The rocking that can accompany hitting a pocket of turbulence can make us anxious or nauseous, and in extreme cases, it can even cause injury or cabin damage, all of which we’d obviously prefer to avoid. The problem is that clear-air turbulence can be hard for pilots to spot, but the good news is that Boeing is testing a new laser system to help detect pockets of disruptive air up to 17 km in advance.
This will give pilots plenty of time to take evasive action, which is welcome news as turbulence-related injuries doubled in 2016 from 21 to 44, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The new experimental lidar system, or light detection and ranging technology, will initially be trialled on-board FedEX 777 freight aircraft over a six-week period, where more than 30 other technologies will also be researched.
It will emit pulses of laser light that scatter over small particles in the air from the tip of the plane to seek out abnormal changes in the wind speed ahead. If sensors on the plane detect turbulence, the new system will sound an audio alert. This could give pilots time to react to oncoming turbulence and give crew and passengers the chance to secure any food or drink they’re handling.
If deemed successful, the lidar technology is likely to be rolled-out to all commercial carriers. The development is timely as according to a paper in the journal, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, extreme turbulence on flights looks set to soar as climate change impacts the North Atlantic Jet Stream.