A number of aircraft incidents linked to severe weather and air turbulence have recently been reported. These incidents have given rise to questions about the increase of extreme atmospheric phenomena and about flight safety. All last-generation aircraft are designed to withstand turbulence, the best way to avoid these incidents is to anticipate meteorological events and avoid them.

Air turbulence – whether it be related to a thunderstorm, windshear or clear air turbulence – is the leading cause of injury inside aircraft, according to IATA. Since the safety of aircraft and the people onboard are a top priority for Airbus, we closely monitor turbulence incidents.

How to limit turbulence experienced by passengers

There is a broad consensus among scientists that storms are likely to become stronger, and probably more frequent in some areas of the planet, as the climate changes in the coming years. However, factual analysis of turbulence events with injuries that were reported to Airbus to date has not shown any clear trend. 

The increase in the number of incidents since 2021 may have other causes, in particular the growth of air traffic. There are more flights now than there were a few years ago,[1] and consequently weather related incidents may be more likely to occur.

Regardless of any perceived increase in incidents, flying remains safe. Airbus family aircraft are designed to withstand loads well in excess of those recorded in the extreme natural conditions known to date. Aircraft from other brands are also highly resistant. Turboprop military transport aircraft or business jets can even be used to fly straight into hurricanes for weather forecasting purposes.

Although aircraft are made to withstand turbulence, the best approach as far as safety and passenger comfort are concerned is to avoid air turbulence whenever possible. Doing so begins on the ground during flight preparation. Based on the latest meteorology information and forecasts, pilots define a flight plan that will avoid severe weather areas.

Cockpit weather radar screen

An example of the weather radar display in the cockpit. Weather appears in different colours depending on the intensity of the precipitation rate, going from least to most intense: black, green, yellow, red and magenta.

When cruising, pilots can generally see thunderstorms in advance. They can also detect storms using weather radar. This technology, installed in the cockpit, has undergone a major evolution over the last fifteen years. 

Automatic radars have been available since 2010. In the Airbus fleet, all A350s and A380s, and 75% of A320s are equipped with automatic radars. The rest still use manual radars. Since 2015, the radars can also be equipped with a hail prediction function. 

Once a weather event has been identified, either by sight or by radar, the avoidance manoeuvre is to pass on the side of the storm clouds with adequate margins.

When turbulence cannot be avoided

In some cases, an aircraft cannot detect or avoid the turbulence zone. This may happen when flying across the boundary between two air masses, where clear air turbulence (CAT) can occur. CAT, which is due to the speed difference of air masses at high altitude, cannot be detected with the on-board weather radar. It can only detect water droplets. This is why passengers and cabin crew are usually advised to stay in their seats and fasten their seatbelts while in the air. 

In conclusion, severe weather events demonstrate that air transport safety relies on a combination of technology and human behaviour. New-generation aircraft are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions, and advances in weather forecasting and radar technology mean that severe turbulence can be avoided. Compliance with safety protocols, such as the wearing of seatbelts, reduces the risk of injury and ensures the safety and comfort of all passengers.


Product safety commercial aircraft header

Commercial aircraft safety in operations.