Poor weather hampers safe flight operations

Last week’s winter storm held up air travel along the East Coast, with airlines canceling thousands of flights in the region and shutting down operations at some airports for days. Caught in another storm Monday, aviation authorities in the area canceled more than 1,100 additional flights. These widespread cancellations inconvenience travelers and carriers alike but keep countless people away from the harms of flight during severe weather conditions.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compiled data on how weather affects air safety and found the following:

  • In-flight Icing: As planes fly, their exterior temperature can fall to below 32˚ Fahrenheit and water that touches their surface can freeze on impact. Between 1989 and early 1997, this phenomenon, called in-flight icing, was a factor in about 11 percent of weather-related aviation accidents, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Icing impairs control of aircraft and causes planes to operate below peak efficiency. To avoid icing hazards, authorities often reroute and delay flights.
  • On-ground ice: Ice also builds up on planes as they sit on runways in cold weather. From 1978 to 1997, ice accumulation contributed to 10 takeoff accidents, the FAA said. Ice can also cause instrument navigation malfunctions and snarl airport operations if it gets on runways and taxiways.
  • Thunderstorms: Thunderstorms, a common East Coast weather occurrence during warmer months, contributed to 2-4 percent of weather-related aviation accidents from 1989 to early 1997, according to the National Aviation Safety Data Analysis Center. Other effects can include airport closures and slowdowns in operations as well as flight rerouting. Lightning and hail accompanying the storms can also damage aircraft.
  • Visibility: Low visibility was a factor in almost one in four general aviation accidents between 1989 and early 1997, according to the FAA. Though cited as a factor in fewer than 2 percent of commercial airline crashes, reduced visibility often causes flight cancellations, delays and rerouting.
  • Turbulence: Most airline passengers have experienced air turbulence, and most have experienced it as simply an uncomfortable wobbling of a plane. But turbulence can be far more serious and even fatal. On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 encountered turbulence soon after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to the NTSB. Excessive and unnecessary control inputs from the flight crew led to a loss of control of the plane. All 251 passengers and nine crew members were killed, as were five people on the ground.

Slack Davis Sanger attorneys have years of successful experience representing victims of aircraft crashes from around the world due to weather and/or other causes. For more information on air travel hazards, contact our aviation attorneys today.

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