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Flying in the rain: What passengers should do

Louis Ibah

Flying on a large commercial aircraft remains one of the safest forms of transportation, experts in the transportation industry insist. Over the last decade, there has been “a remarkable decline in accidents globally,” said Bill Voss of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organisation headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

And indeed there are statistics to validate such claims. In Africa, for instance, in the last two years (2016 and 2017 and up till date), besides the Algerian military aircraft that killed all 257 passengers, there has been no report of an air crash claiming lives of passengers. You only need to count the number of car accidents on the expressway closer to you and the lives lost to appreciate the zero accident or two-year safety data from the African sky. In Nigeria, the last air crash on a commercial airplane took place in 2013 – about five years ago.

But for an air passengers, particularly a first time flyer, neither the views of experts or safety statistics would assuage his fears, feelings or perceptions if he or she is on board an aircraft that is shaking, rattling passengers as it tumbles through dark monsoon skies hitting air-pockets because of heavy rains.

Indeed, flying while it rains poses some safety challenges for  aircraft crew as well as airport owners and regulatory agencies.

In Nigeria, we just witnessed the onset of the rainy season this April.  And over the week, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) issued a weather hazard alert to all pilots and airline operators in Nigeria advising that they adhere strictly to security and safety standards and processes that guide flying during the rainy season in order to forestall a possible occurrence of an air crash in the country.

The NCAA said the  alert had become imperative given that the outset of the rainy season is usually accompanied with severe thunderstorms and many other hazardous weather phenomena such as turbulence, microburst, low level wind shear and hail events which have all been known to pose obvious threat to smooth aircraft operations. Above all flying under the rain can sometime create long-lasting impressions of fear and flying apathy on passengers who experience any of the associated hazards in the course of the flight.

What a passenger should do

Daily Sun bring you these nuggets of information that can assist  keep panic attacks at bay when next you board a flight on a rainy day. 

It’s safe fly when it’s raining

The first thing that a passengers should know is that it’s is safe to fly when it is raining. So just because it’s rainy and windy on your way to the airport does not mean it’s going to be a rough flight. Thousands of aircraft across the world operate through rain and snow without any air crash reported. Regulatory institutions all over the world also have strict rules and regulations that guide flights during harsh weather conditions and for which airlines are bound to obey or risk sanctions.

Since you are very likely going to arrive the airport and remain on ground prior to any boarding and take-off, then there is no cause for fear.  The air traffic controllers (ATC) will not clear an aircraft for take-off if the weather conditions are dangerous. In the worst case, your flight may get delayed and you need to exercise patience because this is done to ensure your safety. But once the aircraft is cleared for taxiing and take-off, rest assured, you’re good to go. No rain induced accident can take place thereafter.

Expect a bumpy flight

However, if you’re hoping for a perfectly smooth flight, it may not go that way. Flying through monsoon clouds, especially the curly, rainstorm type, will mean bumps, thuds, sudden drops and inexplicable ‘lifts’ of the aircraft. Understand that this is not abnormal and that it won’t bring down the aircraft. It is just like driving a car all alone on a road that has potholes here and there; the potholes are irritating though, but your car won’t tear apart after hitting a pothole.

Lightning will not bring down the aircraft

Lightning accompanying rainfall could hit an aircraft and even when that happens, it will not hurt you or the aircraft equipment. Airplanes are built to absorb over eight times the energy carried by a bolt of lightning. More crucially, in the event of a strike, the energy is dissipated through tiny, pin-like devices on the wings, and does not affect the passengers or the aircraft electronics. Your pilot may choose to land immediately after a strike, but that is most likely to be as a safety precaution and not because the aircraft is in a distress situation. And there are many of such incidences that warrant a pilot terminating a journey (making an air return) as a precautionary measure. 

Aircraft built for right weather

It is also important for passengers to know that aircraft are conceptualised, designed and built to withstand the roughest of weather conditions, including rains. And as such, a heavy downpour will not tear the plane apart. The wings of an aircfart can withstand extreme pressure, as can the cabin. Advanced aviation navigational aid equipment that are now installed at airports and built into aircraft can facilitate the landing of an aircraft in low visibility without fuss even if it’s raining cats and dogs, as they say, and no one can see the runway. Aircraft are a lot more manoeuvrable than you think, but pilots most often prefer to keep the flight as simple as possible for the comfort of passengers.

Look up to the cabin crew

It’s not uncommon for nervous flyers to imagine the cockpit crew working the controls trying to negotiate a rough patch. The truth, however, is that your pilot is probably worrying about keeping the coffee in his (or her) cup. Turbulence is common, and in several cases, is negotiated by the aircraft autopilot. Also, your flight attendants have been trained to handle all worst case scenarios.

When your aircraft is tossing about and you are trying to figure if it’s safe or not, always pause and observe the  flight attendants. They don’t want to die either. Observe how they seem completely unaffected and draw confidence from them that all is well with the flight.

Pick your seat

But if you have a phobia for flying and you know you are bound to get nervous due to inclement weather, then take a seat right on the wing, closest to the aircraft’s centre of gravity, and you will have a relatively calm flight no matter what happens in the sky. But on an aircraft, just like a long bus, if you sit at the back of the aircraft, you’re bound to have a bumpy ride.

Keep to instructions

This is by far the most important thing to do. Turbulence is the number one cause of injuries to air passengers in the sky and most often, it’s because some passengers won’t obey the simple instruction to fasten their seat belt. You may think it’s okay to ignore the seat-belt sign when the goings have been good and it’s nice and sunny outside. But once the weather changes and the seat belt signs come on, it’s best to obey and get the belt buckled. Stow away anything that can become a projectile – trays, cups, laptops, and belt yourself in. That’s the secret to staying safe during a harsh weather flight condition that sees the plane tossing up and down the sky like a kite.

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