9.1 Weather Incidents & Accidents in Contemporary Commercial Aviation: A Forensic Meteorologist's Perspective

Wednesday, 9 January 2019: 8:30 AM
North 224B (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Kacie Shourd, WeatherExtreme Ltd., Incline Village, NV; and E. J. Austin, J. D. Means, and A. Austin

The average number of fatal commercial aviation accidents has decreased significantly since the 1960s, with 2017 having just 0.03 fatal accidents per 1 million U.S commercial flight cycles. Globally, the odds of any one passenger being killed in a commercial plane crash are close to 1 in 16 million. Fatal commercial flights are not the only impacts weather has on commercial aviation, though perhaps the most notorious. The NTSB notes that an average of 27 in-flight turbulence incidents resulting in injury occur on just U.S. commercial flights every year, causing an average of 68 minor injuries and 14 major/fatal injuries. Technological advances over the years have resulted in a massive decrease in fatalities as a result of new aircraft designs, better weather forecasting, and a better understanding of hazardous weather phenomena (e.g. microbursts) in general. Advances in technology have also led to the installation of X-band radars in the nose cones of aircraft which allow pilots to accurately and safely navigate around bad weather. Despite these advances, weather-related aircraft incidents continue to happen, with 50% of air carrier (commercial flights operated under 14 CFR Part 121) crashes in 2015 being directly related to weather. Commercial aviation has already seen a number of weather-related incidents and crashes this year (2018), including the American Airlines flight which encountered very large hail and extreme turbulence over New Mexico on June 3, 2018. This presentation will provide an overview of weather incidents/accidents in commercial aviation over the years, along with studies and steps taken to reduce them. A brief forensic analysis of three commercial airliner incidents will also be presented. These include the American Airlines Flight 1897 large hail and turbulence encounter on June 3, 2018, the U.S. Airways Flight 496 tropopause fold/turbulence encounter on April 15, 2012, and the American Airlines Flight 1420 crash in Little Rock, Arkansas, on June 1, 1999.
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