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The aviation industry is one of the most important industries in modern society. This industry makes it possible for air travel to occur. Air travel is the fastest and most effective form of moving from one destination to the other. Through the efficient movement made possible by aviation, individuals and nations can benefit and prosper. Commercial flights enable passengers can move from place to place for business. Goods are transported through cargo planes, therefore, enhancing commerce. The safe and effective operation of aircraft is crucial for the benefits of air travel to be enjoyed. However, certain weather phenomena affect individual flights and might even result in devastating accidents. Statistics by the Federal Aviation Administration indicate that adverse weather conditions are responsible for 23% of all aviation accidents (Kulesa, 2003).
This paper will set out to highlight some of the devastating weather related to aviation accidents in history and discuss the adverse weather phenomena that can critically affect flight safety. The paper will then give the weather minimums that aircraft cannot safely operate without and offer advice on how pilots can avoid those adverse situations and minimize the damage once they encounter the situation.
Weather Related Aviation Accidents
There have been several significant kinds of weather-related to aviation accidents over the past decade. On April 20, 2012, the Pakistani owned Bhoja Air Flight 213 crashed as it made its way to the airport in Islamabad due to poor weather. This crash resulted in the death of 121 passengers, making it the second deadliest aircraft accident in the history of Pakistan aviation. The weather conditions that led to this accident were a thunderstorm and heavy rains in the region of flight. The accident occurred 5.6 kilometers away from Benazir Bhutto International Airport, which was the destination of the aircraft. Reports suggest that the plane might have been struck by lightning before the crash. Other reports suggest that wind shear was responsible for smashing the plane into the ground as the pilot prepared to land in the strong winds and rain.
Another aviation accident involved the Airblue Flight 202 on July 28, 2010, in Pakistan. This plane was scheduled to land in Benazir Bhutto International Airport as part of a domestic flight. The weather conditions as the plane attempted to land were dense fog and heavy rains. One hundred and fifty-two people (the entire passenger and crewmembers of the flight) were killed in the accident. Reports indicate that the poor weather present as the plane attempted to land made it necessary for the flight controllers to delay the plane’s landing. It was while the pilots of the Airblue Flight 202 were making the diversion that the fatal accident occurred.
A Ukrainian flight suffered from an accident due to weather conditions. The South Airlines Flight 8971 crash-landed on 13 February 2013 following an attempt to land in poor weather. The pilot tried to land the plane in dense fog leading to the crash. Five people died because of the accident, and the plane was badly damaged.
Adverse Weather Phenomena
Thunderstorms are one of the weather conditions that make it dangerous to fly. These conditions lead to several weather patterns that are dangerous to aircraft. As the thunderstorm grows, there is significant turbulence created due to the internal up and downdrafts that occur within the thunderstorm. An aircraft that encounters this turbulence can be forced to gain or loss altitude, severely leading to accidents. The FAA (2010) reports that thunderstorms impede on the ability of the aircraft to fly at a steady altitude because of the turbulence created. In addition to this, thunderstorms are often accompanied by lightening, which might have devastating effects on the aircraft. If an aircraft is struck by lightning, the electronic equipment in the plane might be knocked out, making it hard for the pilot to navigate. Lightning flashes might also lead to temporary night blindness as the pilot’s vision is affected after the lightning strikes (FAA, 2010).
Icing presents a danger to airplanes both on the ground and in the year. While on the ground, icing can cause accumulation of ice on crucial parts of the aircraft such as propellers and the engine inlets. Accumulation of icing on the body of the plane’s wings can lead to accidents during takeoff since it can sufficiently increase drag, therefore, preventing the airplane from achieving lift at the normal speeds (Kulesa, 2003). Icing might also lead to navigational errors while the plane is in the air. This occurs when ice affects the measuring instrumentation leading to wrong results on the airspeed and altitude parameters. The pilot might, therefore, make erroneous judgments due to this wrong measurements caused by icing.
Another significant adverse weather phenomenon is wind shear, which is defined by an extreme change in wind direction and speed. Several weather conditions can cause wind shear, and these include thunderstorms, microburst, mountain waves, and jet streams. The wind shear caused by microburst present a greater danger than the other causes since they occur at lower altitudes (Rajendra & Ashok, 2013). The effects of wind shear when the plane is close to the ground can be devastating since the aircraft is normally at low altitudes during the two crucial phases of its flight, which are during takeoff or landing. The FAA (2010) states that at these phases of flight, the pilot does not have enough time to react to the loss of control or altitude that the wind shear might lead to.
Weather Minimums for Safe Aircraft Operation
Some minimum weather conditions must be present before an aircraft can be allowed to engage in the crucial phases of takeoff and landing. Under Visual flight rules, the aircraft is not allowed to land in low visibility since the pilot should have a clear view of the runway before making a landing. While the pilot can land with the help of navigational signals, there is no guarantee that these signals offer a reliable report of the real conditions on the ground. Heavy snow might lead to a distortion of the glide slope signals leading to a miscalculation that could cause a catastrophic landing (Knecht & Lenz, 2010).
Aircraft are not supposed to land on wet and icy runways since these surfaces are hazardous. Reports indicate that icy runways are responsible for most of the landing accidents witnessed at airports all over the world (Rajendra & Ashok, 2013). Wet and icy runways affect the friction between the aircrafts wheels and the runway surface. This leads to a reduction in the efficiency of the braking system, and it might cause runway overshooting. The ground icing conditions must, therefore, be checked before a plane can be cleared for takeoff or landing.
Landing or taking off while a wind shear is in progress is unsafe. Aircraft control towers are equipped with systems that can detect wind shear and report this to the pilot (Knecht & Lenz, 2010). The aircraft is supposed to delay its takeoff or landing if there is a wind shear since this condition can lead to loss of control of the aircraft while it is close to or on the ground.
Avoiding Adverse Situations
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that adverse weather is the leading risk factor for fatal crashes (O’Connor & Lincoln, 2011). Tackling weather situations can, therefore, greatly improve aviation safety. Access to weather information is crucial to reducing the incidents of weather-related aviation accidents. The importance of adequate weather information is reinforced by report findings that most of the crashes in Alaska between 2000 and 2010 occurred in remote airfields that had limited weather information (O’Connor & Lincoln, 2011).
Pilots should always get their preflight weather briefing from reliable sources. This sources should be aviation oriented and of a high-grade. Kulesa (2003) recommends obtaining weather briefings from the Flight Service Station. The information from this source is not only accurate but also tailor-made for pilots and up to date. It is possible for an aircraft to encounter un-forecast weather conditions while on a pre-planned flight path. Reports by the FAA (2010) indicate that flights into adverse weather during the cruise phase are the most common probable causes of fatal weather accidents. When this occurs, the pilot can navigate the aircraft under the Visual Flight Rules if possible. Craig (2012) states that the pilot should adjust the course of the aircraft to get away from the dangerous weather. These diversions should take place with the assistance of local weather stations.
Awareness of the local weather conditions can help a pilot to make appropriate decisions while in flight. Pilots can make use of weather radar to identify the weather conditions of the area they are flying into. Most commercial aircraft have an Airborne Weather Rader System that can provide the pilot with a local weather picture (Craig, 2012). This system enables the pilot to identify undesirable weather formations and avoid them.
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The onboard instrumentation should be used to improve flight safety. Specifically, pilots should make use of their instrument indications when flying in weather conditions that are undesirable for visual flight rules (Kulesa, 2003). Most of the weather-related fatalities occur when the pilot attempts to fly using visual flight rules in weather conditions that require him/her to rely on the instrument indications available to him. The pilot should, therefore, avoid the temptation to rely on his visual perception in Instrument meteorological conditions.
This paper set out to highlight the impact that adverse weather has on aviation. It began by highlighting some weather-related accidents in history. It then gave an overview of some of the adverse weather phenomena that can affect flights. Deteriorating visibility, turbulence, and thunderstorms have been singled out as some of the most problematic weather conditions. The paper has highlighted the weather conditions under which it is unsafe to operate an aircraft. Pilots should not attempt to take off or land in poor visibility or when there are wind shears in the airport area. The paper has also discussed some of the ways though which the pilot can avoid adverse situations or minimize the damage caused when the conditions are encountered. If weather concerns can be reduced and risk mitigated, the number of weather-related aviation accidents would reduce significantly. This will ensure that society can enjoy the many benefits that air travel offers.
Craig, C. (2012). Improving flight condition situational awareness through Human Centered Design. Work, 41(1), 4523-4531. Web.
FAA (2010). Thunderstorms and Interference. Web.
Knecht, W. & Lenz, M. (2010). Causes of General Aviation Weather-Related, Non-Fatal Incidents: Analysis Using NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System Data. Oklahoma: Civil Aerospace Medical Institute Federal Aviation Administration. Web.
Kulesa, G. (2003). Weather and Aviation: How Does Weather Affect the Safety and Operations of Airports and Aviation, and How Does FAA Work to Manage Weather-related Effects? Washington: Transportation Research Board. Web.
O’Connor, M. & Lincoln, J. (2011). Occupational Aviation Fatalities — Alaska, 2000–2010. Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 60(25), 837-840. Web.
Rajendra, K. & Ashok, K. (2013). Bad weather and aircraft accidents – global vis-à-vis Indian scenario. Current Science, 104 (3), 316-325. Web.