If you’re a nervous flyer, turbulence of any kind is alarming. It’s especially bad when you’re coming in closer to the ground during landing. There are a lot of bumps and jolts that can feel frightening as they’re happening — but they’re nothing your pilot isn’t trained to handle.
Mike Arnot interviewed pilot Shannon Pereira for The Points Guy, grilling her on the most common landing issues associated with weather. Some of them are so scary looking, they have a fan base of people who film them for our terror-viewing purposes.
Your fear may not be completely alleviated by Pereiera’s assurances, but the next time you’re coming in for a bumpy landing, you’ll at least know what’s going on.
This is the most common issue when Pereira is pulling into the airport, during both take offs and landing. She says passengers rarely notice, because the pilots are performing a manoeuvre to offset the issue called “crabbing the wind”. That means they aren’t coming in directly parallel to the runway; instead, they deflect the rudder, and point the nose of the plane in the same direction:
Then, as they flare to land — raising the nose so that the main gear touches down first — the pilots will use the rudder again to align the plane with the runway’s centerline. It’s old hat for Pereira, who flies the Embraer E190.
“Obviously, you want to avoid those side loads on the landing gear, but the aircraft can handle it,” she said.
Even if it looks intense from the outside, these machinations mean things feel relatively smooth within the aircraft.
In comparison, wind shear, described as the sensation of the plane “falling out from under you”, can feel terrifying. It’s caused by the speed of the wind suddenly dropping out as the plane moves towards to the ground. The closer you are, the more intense the sensation is and the more potential for danger.
But not to worry — the pilots have some fancy air work for that, too.
“Where we know there is wind shear we’ll change the power settings to add more power and less flaps, and come in at a higher speed,” explains Pereira.
All commercial US aircrafts built since 1993 have a wind shear alert system, to help pilots manage the issue, because there can be a dangerous outcome to wind shear called “microbursts”.
There have been air disasters associated with microbursts, which is when a column of wind descends quickly over a small surface area. As the column hits the ground, it pushes outward causing a rapid uptick in wind speed. The plane will pass through and immediately hit a “downward, violent and constant blast of wind, followed by a tailwind” as it exits.
They’re both hard to predict and come out of nowhere, and can cause even an experienced pilot to lose control of the aircraft.
But don’t panic yet, because we have technology to handle even this scenario. Pilots work with air traffic control, who have a low-level wind shear alert system, which can predict when microbursts are happening around the landing area. They also have more immediate and up-to-date weather information to share with the pilots.
Communication prevents a lot of potential accidents during take off and landing, and pilots have their contingency plan drilled into them if conditions aren’t safe for a landing. It’s called the “go around” and sounds like what it is: If the pilot can’t land, they’ll fly around again.
“We do a lot of training in the simulators. When the time comes to go around, we’re not shy,” said Pereira. “We’d like to land the first time, but there will be good reasons to go around.”
If you’re on a bumpy ride and the pilot decides to delay landing and take another loop around, don’t panic. They’re just trying to keep you from getting even more shaken up.