Heavy Turbulence on Flights Is Likely to Get Worse
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Heavy Turbulence on Flights Is Likely to Get Worse

Meteorologists predict more bumpy flights as climate change makes hard-to-detect clear-air turbulence more common

Wed, Apr 19, 2023 8:27amGrey Clock 4 min

Flights headed to Honolulu, Tampa, Fla., and Frankfurt in recent months hit turbulence so severe that some passengers and crew ended up in the hospital with injuries.

Actor Matthew McConaughey was a passenger on the Lufthansa flight to Germany. In a recent podcast interview with Kelly Ripa, he described seeing red wine suspended in midair before it crashed down.

“It was a hell of a scare,” Mr. McConaughey, who wasn’t hospitalised, said on the podcast. “A complete loss of control.”

Pilots and meteorologists say bumps are a normal part of flying. The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating the Lufthansa flight. But meteorologists say climate change is distorting the jet stream, making a certain type of severe turbulence—called clear-air turbulence—more likely in the future.

Severe turbulence injuries are rare. Between 2009 and 2022, 163 people were seriously injured during turbulence, according to National Transportation Safety Board data. Flight attendants, who are more likely to be standing during flights, are most likely to get injured, the data show.

What the science says

Though technology that reports turbulence has vastly improved in recent decades, it can be tough to predict.

“You’re talking about a little pin drop in the atmosphere,” says Bill Duncan, head of aviation forecasting operations at the Weather Co., which supplies turbulence forecasts and weather insights to major airlines.

Turbulence happens when swirling air currents push against the wing of the plane, which then moves the wings up and down or the body of the plane from side to side, says Paul D. Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading in England.

Atmospheric pressure, changing wind direction, air around mountains and cold- or warm-weather fronts can cause turbulence, physicists say.

Turbulence caused by wind shear, meaning sudden changes in the speed and direction of wind, is called clear-air turbulence. It is called this because it occurs at higher altitudes in cloudless areas. Aircraft can change altitude suddenly, and pilots usually can’t detect this type of turbulence in advance.

Since 1979, the amount of wind shear in the jet stream has increased 15%, according to a study Dr. Williams co-wrote that was published in the science journal Nature in 2019. At higher altitudes where planes fly, climate change is altering temperature patterns, which creates more wind shear, he says.

Dr. Williams’s research predicts that the amount of clear-air turbulence in the atmosphere in the mid-Northern Hemisphere is expected to more than double over the next three to six decades.

Some of the more popular international flight routes from the U.S., such as New York-London and San Francisco-Tokyo, will experience more clear-air turbulence because they fly in the mid-Northern Hemisphere, he says.

Changes in procedure

Flight crews now use more specific language to address different levels of turbulence, says Dennis Tajer, a captain for American Airlines and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, a union. He began flying for commercial airlines about 30 years ago and says he encounters more clear-air turbulence now compared with early in his career.

American Airlines updated its flight manual in May 2022 to better define turbulence procedures for flight crews. The captain turns on the seat belt sign for all types of turbulence, but crews now take specific actions depending on the severity of the turbulence, he says.

During severe turbulence, flight attendants need to secure carts, place hot liquids in carts or on the floor and secure themselves as quickly as possible by sitting down in the nearest seat or on the floor.

American and United are among the airlines that give pilots access to software called SkyPath, which crowdsources turbulence reports from pilots’ iPads in real time.

SkyPath uses vibrations from the pilot’s iPad to measure turbulence and reports out to other nearby aircraft, providing advance warning of the conditions in real time, a United spokeswoman said in an email.

Tips for navigating turbulence
  • Wear your seat belt. Staying strapped in is the best way to protect yourself if your flight hits unexpected turbulence, pilots and flight attendants say.
  • Take precautions with children under 2. The FAA recommends passengers use an approved child-safety seat or device if traveling with a child under 2. Airlines don’t require children that young to have their own seats. Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and the union have renewed calls for all passengers to have their own seats.
  • Secure your electronics and other hand-held devices. Anything that isn’t tied down can become a projectile, Ms. Nelson says.
  • Remember the odds. Turbulence is scary because it is often unexpected and uncomfortable, says Todd Farchione, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Take a deep breath and realise you’re not truly in danger. Planes are built to withstand even heavy turbulence, pilots and physicists say.


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The surprising passions paying off for investors

The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index reveals investments of passion are paying strong dividends, in some areas at least

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Apr 9, 2024 4 min

Art was the investment of passion that gained the most in value in 2023, according to Knight Frank’s Luxury Investment Index (KFLII). This is the second consecutive year that art has risen the most among the 10 popular investments tracked by the index, up 11 percent in 2023 and 29 percent in 2022. Art was followed by 8 percent growth in jewellery, 5 percent growth in watches, 4 percent growth in coins and 2 percent growth in coloured diamonds last year.

The weakest performers were rare whisky bottles, which lost nine percent of their value, classic cars down six percent and designer handbags down four percent. Luxury collectables are typically held by ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) who have a net worth of US$30 million or more. Knight Frank research shows 20 percent of UHNWI investment asset portfolios are allocated to collectables.

In 2023, the KFLII fell for only the second time, with prices down 1 percent on average.

Despite record-breaking individual sales in 2023, a surge in financial market returns contributed to a shift in allocations impacting on luxury asset value,” the report said. “… our assessment reveals a need for an ever more discerning approach from investors, with significant volatility by sub-market.

Sebastian Duthy of AMR said the 2023 art auction year began with notable sales including a record price for a Bronzino piece. But confidence waned as the year went on.

“It was telling that in May, Sotheby’s inserted one of its top Old Master lots – a Rubens’ portrait – into a 20th Century Modern evening sale. But by then, it was clear that the confidence among sellers, set by the previous year’s record-busting figures, was ebbing away. In the same month, modern and contemporary works from the collection of the late financier Gerald Fineberg sold well below pre-auction estimates.”

The value of ultra contemporary or red-chip’ art contracted the most in 2023.

“Works by a growing group of artists born after 1980 have been heavily promoted by mega galleries and auction houses in recent years. With freshly painted works in excess of £100,000 almost doubling in 2022, it was little surprise that this sector was one of the biggest casualties last year. There is a risk there are now simply too many fresh paint artists with none really standing out.”

In the jewellery market, Mr Duthy noted that demand was strongest for coloured gemstones of exceptional quality, iconic signed period jewels, single-owner collections, and items with historic provenance in 2023. In the watches market, Mr Duthy said collectors chased the most iconic and rare timepieces.

A Rolex John Player Special broke the model record when it sold for £2 million at Sotheby’s in May, double the price for a similar example sold at Phillips in 2021,” he said.

Although whisky was the worst-performing collectable in 2023, it has delivered the highest return on investment among the 10 items tracked by the index over the past decade, up 280 percent. Andy Simpson of Simpson Reserved, said 2023 was a challenging year but the best of the best bottles gained 20 percent in value. In my opinion some bottles that lost significant value in 2023 will return through the next two years as they are simply so scarce and, right now at least, so undervalued, Mr Simpson said.

Whisky was the worst performing collectable in 2023 but it had highest return on investment over a 10-year period. Image: Shutterstock

Classic car expert Dietrich Hatlapa said the 6 percent fall in collectable vehicle values in 2023 followed a 22 percent surge in 2022. The strong performance of other investment classes such as equities may have dampened collectors’ appetites it’s a very small market so it only takes a minor change in portfolio allocations to have an effect, and there has also probably been a degree of profit taking. However, we have seen some marques like BMW (up 9 percent in value) and Lamborghini (up 18 percent), which appeal to a younger breed of collector, buck the trend in 2023.”

Mr Duthy said a dip in the share price of the top luxury handbag brands last Autumn appeared to spook investors. Last autumn it was possible to pick up an Hermès white Niloticus Himalaya Birkin in good condition for under £50,000. The recent slide reflects a general correction at the upper end that’s been underway for some time rather than changing attitudes to the harvesting of exotic skins.

According to Knight Frank’s Attitudes Survey, the top five investments of passion among Australian UHNWIs are classic cars, art and wine. Fine wine values gained just 1 percent in 2023 as the market continued its correction, said Nick Martin of Wine Owners. “It’s been a hell of a long run, so I’m not that surprised. Some wines from very small producers that had enjoyed the most exuberant growth have seen the biggest drops. It had got a bit silly, £50 bottles had shot up to £200 or £300.”

Favourite investments of passion: Australia vs Global

1. Classic cars (61 percent of Australian UHNWIs vs 38 percent of global UHNWIs)
2. Art (58 percent vs 48 percent)
3. Wine (48 percent vs 35 percent)
4. Watches (42 percent vs 42 percent)
5. Jewellery (18 percent vs 28 percent)

Best returns among investments of passion (10 years)

1. Whisky 280 percent
2. Wine 146 percent
3. Watches 138 percent
4. Art 105 percent
5. Cars 82 percent


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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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