Airlines likely to tighten seatbelt rules after turbulence trouble, Emirates boss says

Dubai airline is using AI-based tools in real time to better predict where patches of turbulence might happen, Tim Clark says

Oxygen masks dangle from the damaged cabin ceiling of Singapore Airlines flight 321 following heavy turbulence. Airlines are dealing with how to minimise turbulence risks after two extreme incidents last month. Reuters
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The industry's rules around seatbelts and turbulence will probably become stricter after a passenger died on a Singapore Airlines flight that hit severe air turbulence in May, Emirates airline's president said on Sunday.

The airline is using artificial intelligence tools to collect data to better predict weather patterns that can indicate where air turbulence might be happening, Tim Clark said at a media conference at the 80th International Air Transport Association's annual meeting in Dubai.

“The whole industry is now upping the game in regards to making sure that passengers are seated and strapped in,” Mr Clark said.

“We are looking at all the protocols … we're trying to use a bit of AI to give us a predictive analytic capability with regards to where turbulence is.”

Airlines are dealing with how to minimise turbulence risks after two extreme incidents last month.

One man died and dozens of passengers were injured on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 flying from London to Singapore on May 21, while 12 were injured when Qatar Airways flight QR017 struck severe turbulence a few days later.

Emirates last week said it was adding new tools and technology that provide real-time, highly accurate turbulence information and forecasts to pilots.

That will allow them plot the best paths around affected areas for better safety, efficient navigation and optimisation of flight plans.

It will join Iata's Turbulence Aware Platform and use a mobile navigation system made by Germany’s Lufthansa.

“In the meantime, I think you'll see as a result of SQ [flight 321], the industry will start being a lot more concerned about making sure that people are in their seats and strapped in,” Mr Clark said on Sunday.

As a result of more data collection on turbulence patterns, there will be more seatbelt signs flashing during flights to warn passengers to be seated and to buckle up.

“You might see on the TV screens things flashing up a little bit more than they have done in the past and where the crew has some kind of forward information,” Mr Clark said.

“It is likely the crew [in the cockpit] will now be more proactive and feed that information to the cabin crew and put it on the screen.

“Can we manage this better? Probably. Is it going to be faultless? No, it won't be but to mitigate the risk, we have to do certain things. I think that's all fixable.”

The move comes amid an increase in turbulence incidents that airlines faced “well before” flight SQ321, Mr Clark said.

There is a “ticking up” of the amount of turbulence, which some attribute to climate change and others to the increasing number of flights, he added.

Updated: June 03, 2024, 6:08 AM