Algorithm sees 2.5 billion passengers enjoy safer air travel

Algorithm sees 2.5 billion passengers enjoy safer air travel


An air turbulence forecasting algorithm, co-developed by British researchers, has helped make flying safer and smoother for up to 2.5 billion passenger journeys.

Professor Paul Williams, from the University of Reading and the NERC National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), together with his team from the US, developed an algorithm to predict in-flight turbulence using gravity waves in the atmosphere.

The algorithm has been used every day by the US National Weather Service since 2015 to create air turbulence forecasts, which are used by the aviation sector to plot safer flight routes. These low turbulence routes are also helping to make flying greener by reducing CO2 emissions.

Tens of thousands of planes encounter severe turbulence every year, at a cost of around a billion dollars annually through injuries to cabin crew and passengers as well as structural damage to aircraft.

Turbulence is increasing as global temperatures rise due to climate change, and Professor Williams has been working with aircraft engineers at Airbus to make sure that the next generation of planes is fit for a warmer and bumpier airspace.

“Turbulence is unpleasant to fly through and can be very distressing for nervous fliers,” Professor Paul Williams said. In severe cases, it can be dangerous, and we know it will become worse over the coming decades as the global climate warms. By developing better turbulence forecasting methods, and working with Airbus to ensure future aircraft design is informed by our climate change turbulence projections, we should have safer skies and help pilots avoid things that go bump in the flight.”

Professor Williams’ research with Professor John Knox, University of Georgia, USA, and Don McCann, McCann Aviation Weather Research Inc.,USA won runner up at the societal category of the 2018 Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Impact Awards.

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