Predicting turbulence: forecasts at passengers’ fingertips

Shutterstock / Mike Kuhlman

The new website Turbli allows passengers to check how much turbulence to expect during their flight. Consolation for travelers but not for aircraft operators?

The Turbli website uses forecasts from the US National Weather Service and predicts turbulence for flights up to 36 hours in advance. Passengers just need to put departure and arrival airports as well as the departure date to get a forecast for their flight.

“My feeling is that most passengers are not aware that it’s possible to check the turbulence forecasts. Most assume that such data is only accessible to pilots or airlines. My website comes to fill in that gap,” founder and developer of Turbli website Ignacio Gallego-Marcos told AeroTime News.

Encouragement for passengers

According to the company’s website, Turbli is a tool for passengers who might want to know about turbulence in advance due to a wide variety of reasons, ranging from fear of flying to s trying to concentrate on work through the flight, the parents hoping to walk their babies along the aisle, and many more.” 

Destined to predict the turbulence as accurately as possible, it should come as a consolation for passengers. However, the tool still raises the question of how fearful flyers would react to an unpredicted turbulence during a flight if they were using the app. 

“Turbulence can always come unexpectedly. Passengers scared of flying might be nervous over an unpredicted turbulence patch. Still, I think that they should have the possibility of checking the forecast while keeping in mind its limitations. Then they can decide if they feel more comfortable not checking them or if they prefer to have an estimate on it,” said Gallego-Marcos.

Aircraft operators not as enthusiastic?

While most passengers would want to avoid any turbulence during the flight, airlines might choose to fly over a turbulent area in order to save fuel. 

“Those who particularly fear turbulence might be relieved that there was better information available to avoid it. But the reality is that if the choice is [between] light or moderate turbulence or a longer (and more costly) flight, most operators will accept moderate turbulence,” James Johnson, an Air Traffic Control Officer at Birmingham Airport (BHX), told AeroTime News.

Not all aircraft operators might be at ease with the forecasts being at passengers’ fingertips. According to Johnson, the operators could fear liabilities in case a passenger gets injured when turbulence could have been avoided by taking a different route.

“For predictive models of air turbulence, many aircraft operators would probably prefer information that is not available to the public through a website, as it would potentially open them up to legal liability issues. For instance, if they avoid extended routing and knowingly fly into turbulence to save fuel, but a passenger is injured [because of this – ed. note],” added Johnson.

Climate change to make turbulence more common

Bumpy flights could become our new reality due to climate change, according to a research by the atmospheric scientist Paul Williams from the University of Reading, published in 2017. “Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change,”  Williams told the CBC News.

A major increase by several hundred percent in severe invisible clear air turbulence is expected in the next few decades, according to the research. To be precise, the doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere would increase the average amount of severe clear air turbulence at 39,000 feet by 149%. As a result, severe turbulence on passenger flights could become two or three times more common than today.

“Normally when someone mentions climate change, we think about how it’s getting warmer here at ground level, but the climate is changing at 35,000 feet because of our CO2 emissions. It’s modifying the jet stream and just increasing those instabilities in the jet stream,” said Wiliams.


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