DALLAS — The short answer is yes; it is feasible for a commercial aircraft to fly over a hurricane while remaining out of the storm’s path.
The hurricane season officially begins in June and ends in November, usually peaking in the month of August. When warm, moist air rises from the ocean and collides with cooler air in the atmosphere, water vapor condenses and forms storm clouds.
Year-round, airlines and air traffic controllers must reroute planes around thunderstorms, but hurricanes, tropical storms, and even tropical depressions represent a significantly greater threat. Hurricanes, unlike regular summer showers, are bigger and take much longer to pass through, depending on your location and the storm system’s trajectory. Even a category 1 storm can travel 300 miles and have sustained winds of up to 95 miles per hour.
When hurricanes and tropical storms form, airline operation centers must make numerous judgments in order to save passengers, employees, and aircraft. These considerations include how long they will continue to fly into and out of airports in the line of a storm. Aircraft planned to spend the night at a threatened airport will be diverted to airports outside of the storm’s path. But what about during a flight?
During a flight, commercial pilots carefully check for reports or forecasts of turbulence, collaborating with flight dispatchers to choose a route.
If a route takes a flight above storm clouds, this is shown on the radar screen in a “hatched” format to remind pilots that they will be passing over a convective cloud, for example, and may therefore encounter some light chop.
If the pilot can navigate a route around the Green, Amber, and definitely the Red, passengers won’t spill their drinks and will arrive calm and relaxed at their destinations.
To find out more about the technical aspects of dealing with turbulence and storm dodging, be sure to read Capt. Chris’ article on the subject from our Pilot’s Corner series.
Preparing for Severe Weather
We know that many airlines use hub airports in major cities to connect passengers to smaller, regional airports. On a daily basis, a large number of flights arrive and depart from them. If one of these hubs is damaged by a storm, it may take many days to get back to normal. The loss of a hub can have a significant impact on passengers and freight operators.
We must keep in mind that severe weather affects not only passengers but also airline staff at all levels. Flight dispatchers, crew schedulers, and maintenance planners collaborate to swiftly restore the flight schedule, as flight crews must be adaptable during these erratic operations as their schedule is likely to be altered.
Severe weather can happen at any time and may affect travel conditions for pilots and passengers. If a storm is approaching, pay attention to airline announcements and be prepared to adjust your plans.
During a natural disaster, pilots are aware of active Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and updates to Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs). These can change rapidly during emergency response efforts. Pilots also receive real-time flight updates through the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) electronic flight planning tools (EFP) or use VFR Flight Following.
Severe weather is the largest cause of flight delays in the U.S. As hurricane season is upon us, we can count on a vast team of highly trained specialists who strive to deliver us to our destinations as quickly and safely as possible.
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