The industry of aviation is considerably affected by weather. Probably, no other means of transportation is as vulnerable to weather conditions as the industry of aviation. In the process of development of the aviation industry, the improvements decreasing the impacts of weather were invented and introduced. However, the hazardous effects of weather did not disappear, and the weather is still one of the major factors causing flight accidents, many of them resulting in fatalities.
The Variety of the Violent Weather Events
The climatic phenomena are numerous and diverse. Some of them are good and favorable for the society and its activities; the others present definite risks and hazards. The severe weather events may present threats to the country’s economy as well as to people’s health and lives. The violent types of weather that occur in the United States include extreme heat or cold, wind, rain, snow, hail, fog, and storms. Usually, the hazards like thunderstorms, tropical cyclones, and tornadoes arise from the combination of these elements. For example, the tropical cyclones, the most dangerous of all the storms, are the combination of storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain (Oliver, 233-234). All of these weather conditions are hazardous to the country’s economy in general and to its aviation industry in particular. The tropical cyclones or hurricanes are the most disastrous storms because they are very mobile and difficult to predict. They cause much destruction and almost always result in many fatalities.
Another type of violent weather is thunderstorms. They are widespread hazards that result in lives and property damage. In relation to the aviation industry, the thunderstorms are the major reasons of air traffic delays and aircraft accidents of the weather-related nature (Oliver, 236).
The impacts of severe cold are numerous, one of which being the transportation losses. Besides, it is responsible for the aircraft icing, a cause of many aircraft accidents.
Fog is another hazardous phenomenon. It restricts the visibility, thus causing the aircraft delays, diversions, and inconveniences and making the aviation industry lose millions of dollars each year (Oliver, 240).
During the flight, the aircraft pilots encounter diverse hazardous situations caused by the influence of the severe weather.
The Impacts of the Violent Weather on Aircraft
The violent weather in all its numerous manifestations affects the aviation industry. The aviation weather hazards are turbulence, aircraft icing, low ceiling and poor visibility.
The most unexpected and difficult to forecast hazard is turbulence. “Turbulence is any irregular or disturbed flow in the atmosphere producing gusts and/or eddies” (Aviation Weather, 101). In other words, turbulence is a result of wind shear – a change of wind direction and/or speed. The gradual change is not dangerous; however, the abrupt change is hazardous and can result in turbulence, which requires much time for a pilot to correct the situation (Vickers, Buzza, Schmidt & Mullok, 20). The occurrence of turbulence can be forecast; however, it is hard to predict its precise locations. The types of turbulence depending on its causing factors are thermal, mechanical, frontal and large-scale wind shear (Aviation Weather, 101). In general, all of these types are the results of air masses movements. Severe turbulence can cause serious aircraft damages resulting in accidents with fatalities, as well as significant annual financial losses.
Another aviation hazard related to weather is the icing of an aircraft. Icing can be structural. It may affect the external structure of an aircraft. Icing may occur in the engines, fuel, and instruments. Both types of icing are the processes of freezing of an aircraft caused by super-cooled water droplets (Vickers, Buzza, Schmidt & Mullok, 9-10). It is always a dangerous situation because icing may result in various damages of an aircraft, which in their turn result in errors in work of the instruments, decreasing lift, thrust and range, increasing weight, fuel consumption, and many other problems (Ahrens, 181). All of these consequences of icing have become a reason for many aircraft accidents and incidents.
The numerous weather phenomena like snow, rain or fog are responsible for the appearance of two interrelated hazards – poor visibility and low ceilings. Most often, these hazards are fog-related. These types of the violent weather restrict the visibility and can result in low ceilings. These hazards are often the reasons of flight delays, as well as of many accidents, most often occurring during the takeoffs and landings (Aviation weather, 123).
All of these weather hazards may be very dangerous and result in significant financial losses, and what is more important – losses of people’s lives. That is why the main concern of scientists is to investigate ways of reducing the violent weather impacts on aircraft and, thus, on the whole, aviation industry.
The Space Weather
A special attention should be paid to the impacts of the space weather. This issue has become of immense importance recently. It is a relatively new sphere of scientific investigation; though, its significance cannot be neglected. The modern means of transportation, including the aviation industry, depend on electronics to a big extent. The introduction of highly technological devices makes the flights safer; however, at the same time, they are more vulnerable to the space weather. The space weather is the effects of the solar activity. The sun produces the electromagnetic radiation, that is, charged particles and electromagnetic waves that reach the Earth. The same means of data and energy transmission are used in technology. This means that all the modern technical devices can be severely influenced by the sun radiation (Lilensten & Bornarel, 2). The United States of America and many other countries with highly-developed technologies have become very vulnerable to the impacts of the space weather. One of the industries that can be adversely influenced is the aviation industry (Severe Space Weather Events, 4). For instance, the transpolar routes, which are used to fly between North America and Asia in order to reduce travel time, are not possible during the severe space weather events. To maintain the communications, these flights rely on the high-frequency radio; however, during solar radiation, storms the complete blackouts occur, making communication impossible. Thus, the airline companies have to re-route their flights. It results in delays, increasing of flight time and fuel consumption (Severe Space Weather, 8).
The Statistic Data
The impacts of the violent weather on the aviation industry in the USA are huge. This fact is proved by statistic data. The weather-related number of the aircraft accidents constitutes 12 % of the total number of accidents in the aviation (Planecrashinfo.com). It is a seemingly low rate; however, it is important to keep in mind that this number conceals not only multimillion financial losses of the industry, but losses of dozens of human lives. Besides, the factors causing the aircraft accidents do not appear as single events. It is always a sequel of causes and consequences. The portion of a pilot error when the initial factor was a weather-related event constitutes 16 % (Planecrashinfo.com). Thus, the number of weather-related causes is much bigger, and makes almost one thirds of the total number of accidents.
The high percentage of the weather-related factors can appear to be even greater. According to the recent research, a new unexpected form of engine icing was found. It occurs in the hot core of the engine, a place that was thought to be impossible for the icing to appear. The findings indicated 60 % of 200 events fell outside normal standards and were characterized by “a loss of thrust, a rollback, surge, flameout, and engine relight (Norris & Mecham). This phenomenon is not yet thoroughly investigated and studied. It means that this phenomenon can be responsible for the number of aircraft accidents that were previously believed not to be weather-related.
The importance of further investigation and research work, development of more efficient and secure means of weather forecasting, and reduction of the impacts of the violent weather on the aviation industry are obvious and recognized by the government. The need for further work in this direction is manifested in the document The 2012 National Aviation Research Plan. This plan indicates the most significant research and development goals in the aviation industry of the USA. The reaching of two goals, human protection, and situational awareness, are related to impacts of the violent weather and include the fulfillment of the so-called “Weather Program”. This program is aimed at investigating the weather phenomena and developing and implementing devices that prevent weather-related accidents and incidents (2012 NARP, 42, 64).
To conclude, the aviation industry is very vulnerable to the violent weather. The weather factors are still among the most frequent causes of aircraft incidents and accidents. The modern highly technological means and devices significantly reduce the impacts of the severe weather conditions. However, the field of further research and investigation is vast. The new technologies have to be developed and implemented to reduce the effects of severe weather events to a minimum. The aviation industry is a vital part of the U.S. economy; it contributes substantially to the country’s economic growth and development. Thus, ensuring its safety and efficiency is of paramount importance not only for the aviation industry in particular but for the whole country in general.
- Ahrens, Donald C. Meteorology Today: An Introduction to Weather, Climate and the Environment. Canada: Thomson Brooks/Cole, 2007. Print.
- Federal Aviation Administration. 2012 National Aviation Research Plan. March 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.
- Lilensten, J. & Bornarel, J. Space Weather, Environment and Societies. The Netherlands: Springer, 2006. Print.
- National Research Council of the National Academies. Severe Space Weather Events – Understanding Societal and Economic Impact: A Workshop Report. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2009. Print.
- Naval Air Training Command. Aviation Weather Student Guide. Texas: NAS Corpus Christi, 2003. Print.
- Norris, Guy & Mecham, Michael. “Icing Thrust Mystifies Researches.” Aviation Week, 23 April 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.
- Oliver, John E. Encyclopedia of World Climatology. The Netherlands: Springer, 2005. Print.
- Planecrashinfo.com. Accident Statistics. n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.
- Vickers Glenn, Sandra Buzza, Dave Schmidt & John Mullok. The Weather of the Canadian Prairies. Canada: NAV CANADA, 2001. Print.