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Pilot flying an airplane

Turbulence is as common to flying as bumps are to a car ride on a gravel road. Though it can feel disconcerting and uncomfortable, turbulence is rarely a cause for concern. If you’re an aspiring pilot training in the Philippines, there’s good news for you. Dealing with turbulence is a skill that you can master with proper training and guidance. Just as sailors learn to read the sea, pilots learn to read the sky.

Pre-Flight Preparations for Turbulence-Ready Flights

Before taking to the skies, pilots must first acquaint themselves with the operational limits of their aircrafts using the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH). Ensure that you, as the pilot in charge, have completed the necessary pre-flight briefing, checked the weather forecast, and interpreted meteorological charts to assess which areas in the route may encounter turbulence.

During the flight, make it a habit to check real-time weather reports and leverage Pilot Reports (PIREPs) from fellow aviators for firsthand insights. These steps are necessary to ensure the safety of everyone onboard during the flight.

To ensure that you’re well-prepared to navigate through those choppy air currents, here are some tips that can help you effectively navigate in-flight turbulence:

Practice Situational Awareness

This is your mental model of everything that is happening around you in real-time. Maintain a constant situational awareness, especially during turbulence. You can do this by knowing your current altitude, airspeed, and position, and always having an “out”—an alternate plan—in case conditions worsen.

Wear Seat Belts and Harnesses

Just as you wouldn’t drive a car without buckling up, ensure that everyone on board has their seatbelt fastened. This is crucial for everyone’s safety on board, even when you’re anticipating light turbulence. Make it a standard practice to advise passengers to keep their seatbelts fastened throughout the flight to keep them safe and to avoid injuries.

Secure Loose Objects

An unsecured object can turn into a dangerous projectile during turbulence, so best put those away. Prioritize securing all items in the cockpit and cabin, from flight maps to coffee cups. Many aircraft have designated compartments for storage so make use of them to keep both you and your passengers safe.

Make Necessary In-flight Adjustment

Proper in-flight adjustments for turbulence involve reducing airspeed to the recommended turbulence penetration speed, which minimizes structural stress and maintains control. Altering altitude, either ascending or descending, can offer a smoother ride by avoiding turbulent air layers, but pilots should base this decision on real-time weather data and PIREPs. Also, it would be best to remember that altitude changes must be coordinated with air traffic control (ATC). When it comes to banking in turbulence, avoid sharp turns that increase stress and discomfort. It’s better to opt for shallow bank angles to preserve aircraft integrity and ensure passenger comfort.

Check Fuel State

Fuel is your margin for safety. Flying through turbulent air can consume more fuel than expected, so it’s crucial to have an adequate reserve. This is particularly important because turbulence may necessitate route changes or diversions to alternate airports. Before taking off, always ensure that your fuel planning includes considerations for unexpected situations, including prolonged bouts of turbulence. Having enough fuel for a Plan B (and possibly even a Plan C) adds safety and gives you more options when navigating through unpredictable air.

Avoid Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are turbulence factories. The rule of thumb is to stay at least 20 nautical miles away. No flight schedule is worth compromising safety, so if you see a thunderstorm, steer clear and adjust your plans accordingly.

Limit Distractions

When flying through turbulence, focus is key. Keep chit-chat and non-essential cockpit activities to a minimum and move away all distracting objects from your line of sight. Your primary job is to fly the aircraft safely, and this requires your undivided attention.