The end of air turbulence? Boeing laser technology could solve age-old bumpy flights problem

Chaos and fear as plane encounters turbulenceIBTimes UK

For air travel passengers turbulence is one of the biggest problems. It can strike fear into nervous fliers, cause nausea in others or in extreme cases be responsible for injury and damage to cabins. Put simply, it's something airlines are desperate to avoid but because some is hard to spot it's easier said than done.

However, passengers could be about to see the end of bumpy flights as Boeing is testing a new laser system to help detect pockets of disruptive air up to ten miles (17km) in advance, giving pilots plenty of time to avoid it.

Clear-air turbulence, which is almost impossible to see as it comes with no visual clues like clouds, can catch pilots off-guard and passengers gripping their seats but a new lidar (light detection and ranging technology) system will send out pulses of laser light from the plane's nose to detect abnormal changes in wind speed ahead.

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The emitted laser light is scattered over small particles in the air and the reflected light back towards sensors on the plane can determine

The new system will sound an audio alert and could give pilots up to 60 seconds to react to problematic turbulence as well as give crew the chance to baton down any food or drink they are serving.

Currently, pilots who are able to observe upcoming turbulence either ascend or descend altitude as evasive action, however in some circumstances if unavoidable they will fly through the turbulence as planes are more than capable of withstanding the rough patches of air despite it being less than comfortable for passengers.

Boeing said that the experimental lidar technology will be put on trial on-board FedEX 777 freight aircraft over a six-week period where more than 30 other technologies will also be researched. It is hoped the concept, if successful, will be rolled-out to all commercial carriers.

The development of more advanced turbulence detection systems comes after turbulence-related injuries doubled in 2016 from 21 to 44, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2017 ten people were injured on-board an American Airlines flight from Athens to Philadelphia suddenly dropped sending people hitting the cabin ceiling. While in May 27 people were injured as an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Thailand hit clear-air turbulence, hurling passengers through the air and breaking several babies' spines.

It also comes at a time where scientists predict extreme turbulence on flights is set to soar as climate change impacts the North Atlantic Jet Stream. Transatlantic flights are said to become a much bumpier ride as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase, according to a paper published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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