WASHINGTON (Aug. 10, 2021) — The National Transportation Safety Board, during a public meeting held Tuesday, recommended the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Weather Service and airline industry associations take specific actions to reduce the number of turbulence-related injuries in air carrier operations.
“Pilot reports of turbulence conditions are a tremendous help to both pilots and forecasters to predict and avoid hazardous turbulence and subsequent injuries,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Bruce Landsberg. “The majority of injuries occurred below 20,000 feet in the vicinity of thunderstorms so it’s critically important for both passengers and flight attendants to be seated with their seat belts fastened in those conditions.”
The actions the NTSB asked the organizations to take, including improving turbulence encounter reporting and turbulence forecasting, are the result of a safety research report, “Preventing Turbulence-Related Injuries in Air Carrier Operations Conducted Under Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Part 121.”
The study revealed more than one-third of all Part121 air carrier accidents in the U.S. involving a serious injury are caused by turbulence, making it the most prevalent type of air carrier accident.
The report noted that in recent years flight attendants accounted for nearly 80 percent of turbulence-related injuries because their jobs frequently require them to be up and about without the safety benefit of a seat belt.
Investigators said although accurate and frequent turbulence observations were an important tool in creating and validating accurate turbulence forecasts, the current system of pilot reports and automated reports from turbulence measuring equipment on airplanes was less effective than it could be because of its limited dissemination among national airspace system users. The NTSB recommended the FAA update and streamline its systems for collecting and sharing turbulence reports to increase the availability of the information to all airspace users.
The NTSB said the value of NWS turbulence forecasting products to air carriers and air traffic controllers could be improved if the forecast coverage area – thousands of square miles – was smaller and the format was more user-friendly. The NTSB asked the FAA and NWS to work together to include more detailed graphical forecasting products that provide greater detail of smaller coverage areas.
The study also highlighted a new product, a turbulence nowcast, that combines numerous data sources to produce forecasts that are updated every 15 minutes – providing air carriers, all users of the National Airspace System and the air traffic controllers who support them – timely and critical safety information about locations and severity of potential turbulence. The turbulence nowcast is not yet widely used so the NTSB recommended the FAA and the NWS work together to fully implement its adoption and use in the national airspace system.
In those situations where the flight crew has no advance warning of potential turbulence, or in which turbulence conditions are known but can’t be avoided, the NTSB said air carriers should focus on how to mitigate injuries to passengers and crew members. As a result, the NTSB recommended the FAA update its guidance to air carriers about the latest available technologies and best practices for avoiding turbulence encounters and turbulence-related injuries.
Acting Chairman Landsberg’s opening and closing statements and an abstract including the findings and safety recommendations are available at https://go.usa.gov/xFEP7. The complete safety research report is expected to be published in the coming weeks.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.