Aviation News


Total Turbulence Helps Guide Flights To Smoother Skies

In recent years, almost every airline from large to small has used social media as a source by which to communicate with customers in situations both good and bad. Carriers are also using their planes for a different type of crowd-sourcing, by collecting and relaying real-time turbulence data.

A product called Total Turbulence by WSI (The Weather Company) collects turbulence data via a patented algorithm called Turbulence Auto-PIREP System (TAPS), from sensors mounted on the plane. WSI says it “fosters communication and collaboration to ensure optimal and confident decisions.” TAPS detects turbulence intensity and sends the data down to WSI, which then forwards the info to the airline’s operations center. From there, dispatchers send specialized reports to pilots flying along that route.

American Airlines has been using Total Turbulence for two years now, according to the airline’s Manager of Flight Planning and Support, Desmond Keaney.

Total Turbulence screen shot courtesy of The Weather Company.

Total Turbulence screen shot courtesy of The Weather Company.

Prior to flight, pilots receive turbulence graphics in their weather package, which is uploaded to the pilot’s iPad and viewed on WSI Pilotbrief. It was only two years ago that weather updates were given by text over ACARS, but Total Turbulence provides graphics for the data as well. American’s next implementation goal is to give connectivity to the pilots so that they can receive updates in real time instead of having them relayed from the airline’s operations center in Fort Worth.

During the flight, Total Turbulence operates passively until turbulence is encountered, at which point it goes into action relaying information to the operations center. Data is not automatically shared with the aviation weather center (though they’re looking to automate that in the future) for moderate and severe events. Pilots are still required to report turbulence encounters to the FAA. WSI says Total Turbulence does not require the installation of any additional hardware on the aircraft. It is a non-disruptive solution with minimal cost in comparison to adding new physical equipment either inside or outside the plane.

Total Turbulence screen shot courtesy of The Weather Company.

Total Turbulence screen shot courtesy of The Weather Company.


Keaney said the validity of the reports does “stale out,” and that depends on the time of day and where the traffic is. If a second plane comes through the same airspace as a plane that just sent a report a few minutes earlier, that first report can then be tossed aside. He said such an occurrence is very typical, especially in the northeastern United States.

Total Turbulence has benefitted American Airlines in several ways since its introduction. Keaney said it’s now able to get down to very mathematical numbers with a high degree of certainty in terms of where and what type of turbulence occurred. For passengers in flight, a long-duration incident of mild to moderate chop feels worse than a brief incident of strong to severe turbulence, though it is the latter which has the higher potential to damage the plane. Being able to pinpoint the type of turbulence has allowed American to reduce costly maintenance inspections as well as out-of-service time for the aircraft. Most importantly, Total Turbulence has also increased flight safety by giving pilots a more advanced warning of turbulence ahead, allowing them to have passengers and flight attendants be seated. As a result, American has seen fewer turbulence-related injuries.

Currently, American has Total Turbulence installed on over 400 aircraft, including its Boeing 737, 757 and 767 fleets. Keaney said the 777s will get it as well. American is also getting finance approval to install it on its A320 fleet beginning later this summer in partnership with US Airways. A spokesman for WSI said Total Turbulence is also being used in production by Alaska Airlines and Dragonair, and there are “several others in the process of evaluation and implementation.”

Paul Thompson has over 13 years of experience working in the airline industry. He is based in Denver, Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter at @FlyingPhotog or on his personal blog planegeek.com.

About the Author

Paul Thompson


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  • Shane Fraser

    Whoa! Where’s the picture from with the WJA tails?