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Home > Air Turbulence > Do pilots avoid classifying turbulence as severe to avoid delays?
Do pilots avoid classifying turbulence as severe to avoid delays?
Weather - Air Turbulence
Tuesday, 11 December 2007 21:16

Hello Capt Lim,

I would like to say firstly, how helpful and informative your site is. I found it after doing an internet search on flight turbulence. I had the misfortune of experiencing what I can now say, was probably 'severe' turbulence during a flight from Gran Canaria to Madrid. It was the most terrifying event of my entire life and left me vowing that I would never fly again. However, having now read your section on turbulence I feel a lot more confident.

That said, I do have one question. You state that any turbulence of up to 'moderate' does not require an inspection of the plane for structural damage but 'severe' and 'extreme' would. Given the financial pressures on airlines today and the tight flight schedules operated around the world, is there pressure on pilots to avoid classifying turbulence above moderate in an effort to avoid delays, etc?

I ask because the flight I was on, was on a very tight turnaround time to an onward destination. If the pilot had classified the turbulence as 'severe' then surely the plane would have been pulled out for inspection?

Thank you!

Kind regards,

Michelle

Hi Michele,

I appreciate your concern and understand your logic on the consequences had the pilot classified the turbulence as 'severe'. Of course, pilots do have guidelines on the classification of air turbulences.

The pilot would evaluate whether all the criteria for severe turbulence were present before he would report it as such. To be classified as severe, all the following conditions must be present. The airplane may be temporarily out of control. Occupants are thrown violently against the belt and back into the seat. Objects not secured are tossed about and the airspeed fluctuations must be more than 25 knots and the vertical gust velocity should be between 35 to 50 feet per second. Generally, pilot would have more experience in determining the severity of the turbulence and is mindful of the safety of the airplane for he or his colleagues would continue to fly the same airplane later on. You know, their lives are just as precious as the passengers'!

Hi Capt Lim,

Thank you so much for the response. It did occur to me later after I had sent my question that you might take my question to mean that I didn't trust pilots with my life (not to mention their own!!) - and I'm sorry if that was the impression I gave. Your answer (as always) was extremely informative and helpful. I think, from the description you gave, the turbulence I experienced was somewhere between moderate and severe......very frightening but much less so now that I have found your web site! I think the terror felt by quite a lot of people on our flight was not helped by the fact that the pilot made no comment before, during or after the turbulence. So all we could do was imagine the worst.

If the pilot (or the crew) had tried to explain that it was simply turbulence and that the plane was not breaking up 11000 feet in the air, then maybe we might all have been calmer. From reading your web site I now realize that the pilot may have been just as surprised as we were by the turbulence and may not have had time to give us any comment. But I do feel he/she should have at least said something afterwards!!

Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to answer my question, and please accept my sincerest apologies for my unintentional suggestion that I don't trust pilots!!

Kindest regards,

Michelle

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