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Turbulent Times As Scientists Investigate Flight Troubles

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David-Sutta-600x450 David Sutta
David Sutta joined the CBS4 news team in April of 2007. As S...
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Turbulence is becoming a bigger problem that it used to be according to some pilots and scientists are concerned it is a result of climate changes.

An example of extreme turbulence occurred on July 10, 2012. American Airlines flight 1780 took off from Aruba headed to Miami.  Thirty minutes from landing the plane started shaking violently.  Passengers began to fear the worst.  “I thought we all were going to die. It was scary,” one passenger recalled.  The turbulence shook the plane for 15-seconds, an eternity to those on board.  A young boy told reporters once on the ground, “I was in the bathroom and I hit myself in the knee.  The bathroom went crazy and I just ran to my seat.”  In the end 12 people were injured, five of them were taken to the hospital.

If you have ever sat in turbulence, you likely have had that white-knuckled experience – holding onto your seat, with perhaps a bit of Hollywood playing into your imagination.

So what is turbulence?

“Turbulence is like a vibration in the atmosphere,” CBS4 Chief Meteorologist Craig Setzer explained.  “It’s typical to have turbulence with the jet stream and jet stream is like a river of wind in the atmosphere. It’s similar to the Miami River where you have a current that moves faster in some parts.  You have little eddies along it and you have even turbulence in the current,” he said.

Rahul Puga, a flight instructor with Florida Aviation Academy in Pompano, has seen his fair share or turbulence.  “Turbulence is nothing to worry about.  Yes people get nervous about turbulence, thinking because they don’t know what’s happening at this point and time,” he said.

Puga showed CBS4 first-hand what they go through in the cockpit.  We agreed to turbulence, on the ground so to speak.

Florida’s Aviation Academy’s simulator can flip your stomach with a flip of switch.  “If you feel sick let me know,” Puga told CBS4’s Davis Sutta as the simulator started randomly dropping on our flight.  As we hit random pockets of air, the pilot’s job is to either slow the plane down until the turbulence passes or find a new altitude to get away from it.  Once in it, though, it felt like you are on a skateboard trying to steer.

Some scientists believe turbulence is on the increase.  They blame an increase in carbon dioxide is causing a more volatile atmosphere. In other words, they blame global warming.  Puga flies every day and says he doesn’t see it.  But pilots are discussing it.  “This is an open topic where no one is going to have the same answer for it,” he said.

If it’s true, though, you may experience turbulence in your wallet.  Frank Colby, a professor of meteorology at the University of Massachusetts told Sutta the result is probably going to be more expensive flights because the planes are going to have to fly at less optimum elevations.  If you fly lower then you have more friction and so planes are going to be less efficient, so you have to use more fuel.  If you zigzag around the clear air turbulence it’s a longer flight, more fuel, and you start looking at this and it all adds up.”  Imagine that, paying more for a bumpy ride.

It all boils down to climate change and what you believe. One thing we all can believe is that fuel prices continue to rise so are those airline tickets.

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