Pilot Explains Flight Turbulence & How Planes Are Equipped to Handle It

  • Planes landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)
    Planes landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)
  • Renowned pilot Captain Irene Mutungi explained flight turbulence, an occurrence that often makes the flight experience of many first-time passengers dreadful.

    In a video shared by Mutungi on Monday, January 23, the pilot clarified that turbulence refers to the sudden changes in the flow of air surrounding the plane or in its path.

    These include variations of velocity, pressure, and magnitude of the wind occasioned by atmospheric and weather conditions and wind movement over physical features such as mountains.

    Boeing 787 Captain Irene Mutungi
    Boeing 787 Captain Irene Mutungi.
    Captain Irene Koki

    "Turbulence is often experienced during thunderstorms, warm or cold fronts, jet streams, and mountain waves. Occasionally we have clear turbulence when we have unexpected air pockets," Mutungi noted.

    A plane flying through turbulent winds may be pushed up and down, creating a similar feeling to a car driving through a bumpy road. 

    The Boeing 787 captain added that the rapid and sudden changes of the airflow are categorised as light, moderate, severe, and extreme.

    However, she assured that the plane design allows them to handle turbulence and advised passengers on what to do when caught up in the same.

    "The aircraft is perfectly able to handle all kinds of turbulence. When the seat belts lights go on, observe them to avoid injuries and let the pilot take control," she stated.

    According to the Sheffield School of Aeronautics, pilots can detect turbulence using the weather radar in the cockpit which alerts them of changes in wind velocity.

    A second radar also tells pilots the nature of the land below thus helping them know where to expect mountain turbulence. Captains then monitor weather changes such as darker, heavier clouds.

    The phenomenon often happens when flying at lower altitudes and thus can be avoided by cruising at higher altitudes.

    However, when caught by surprise, pilots will have to brave through the turbulence.

    File photo of an airplane in the sky
    File photo of an airplane in the sky