Are there really air pockets, and if so what are they ?
Question asked by Tania.
The simple answer is no, there are no air pockets. A common misconception is that the air pockets are like large bubbles with no air in them, so when an airplane flies through them the airplane just drops to the bottom of the bubble.
Downward movement of an airplane, which feels like the airplane is falling is caused by air downdrafts. Atmospheric or air updrafts and downdrafts can be caused by thunderstorm clouds, mountains, vertical air currents created by uneven heating of the ground by the sun (thermals), wake turbulence caused by other airplanes etc.
Often clouds form where there are vertical air currents, but not in all cases. Sometimes pilots can avoid flying through those clouds, if they can be seen and current air traffic permits. However, we definitely avoid flying through thunderstorm clouds, as air currents in those clouds are quite violent. In many cases vertical air currents exist in clear air, creating what is known as “clear air turbulence”. Those air currents cannot be seen, nor can they be detected by airplane’s radar. Sometimes they can be predicted by pilots and weather forecasters, at other times you can fly into them with no warning. Therefore it is strongly recommended to keep the seat belt fastened at all times during the flight, even when the seatbelt sign is not illuminated.
A bit more about Captain Dan:
Captain Dan Baz enrolled in Flight School at the age of 16.
He has completed studies in Aircraft Engineering and Master of Business Administration. He has been at the controls of many different types of aircraft, from single engine Cessnas to large intercontinental jets on global routes.
Over the last four decades he has flown thousands of hours up in the blue sky.
Have a question for the Captain ? Send it to Captain Dan Baz firstname.lastname@example.org Every week a question from the readers will be selected and answer posted in this column.