It happened twice in one week in the US. Passenger planes encountered such severe turbulence that passengers and crew members were injured and had to be hospitalized. It was particularly bad on a Hawaiian Airlines flight. 36 occupants were injured when the Phoenix-bound Airbus A330 encountered severe turbulence on approach to Honolulu.

17 passengers and three crew members then had to go to the hospital. Some of them were unconscious or could not move due to injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board NTSB is now investigating the incident.

It also hit a United Airlines Boeing 767 on the same day. Via Cancun, Mexico, she encountered severe turbulence en route from Rio de Janeiro to Houston. Three passengers and two crew members were injured and taken to a hospital after landing. The injuries were “minor,” the airline said afterwards.

There is a high probability that such incidents will occur more frequently in the future. After all, climate change is changing wind conditions, as researchers at the British University of Reading have discovered. The jet stream that occasionally blows transatlantic flights to their destinations in record time is caused, for example, by temperature differences between the poles and the tropics.

It’s not possible for temperatures to change without something happening to the winds, says the study, published in the journal Nature. The climate researchers also found other changes. Due to the increase in temperatures, vertical winds in particular, i.e. so-called downdraft winds, which blow between the different layers of air, are increasing.

Analysis of satellite data for the years 1979 to 2017 showed that these downdrafts have increased by 15 percent – which the researchers say is what would be expected from climate change calculations. And it is also these downwinds that could cause very unpleasant turbulence.

Airplanes are built to withstand turbulence, but like those on Hawaiian Airlines, belted occupants in particular can be seriously injured. This is also one reason why around 80 percent of turbulence-related injuries affect crew members. Flight attendants often have to walk through the cabin unbuckled because of their job. It can be dangerous, especially if it then surprisingly wobbles.

Airlines are aware of the problem. The airline umbrella organization Iata, for example, founded the Turbulent Aware platform. Airlines that participate will receive real-time information about turbulence experienced by crews during their flight. Crews on the same routes can then react or set the seat belt signs early.

The US Federal Aviation Administration FAA is also currently modernizing its system in which pilots pass on the weather conditions during the flight. But the most important measure to avoid injuries must be taken by the travelers themselves: Always stay buckled.

According to NTSB data, almost all passengers injured by turbulence during the flight were not wearing their seat belts or were not seated.

This article was written by Laura Frommberg

The original of this article “How new wind conditions are changing aviation” comes from aeroTelegraph.