When an airplane encounters severe turbulence, does the pilot manually take over the plane, or is it left on autopilot?
– TRL, New Mexico
Usually, the pilots will leave the autopilot engaged. In small airplanes with limited autopilots it is better to fly manually, but with more sophisticated airplanes the autopilot is a valid option in turbulence.
Severe turbulence is actually very rare. What most passengers think is severe is moderate-to-heavy turbulence. You know it’s severe when unsecured items in the cabin are flying around and maintaining control of the flight path is momentarily disrupted.
Why are clouds so turbulent in Florida for example, but generally not turbulent at all in a place like London or Dublin?
– MB, Miami
Florida has a lot of cumulus clouds, especially during the summer. These clouds have vertical columns of air – up and downdrafts – that result in turbulence.
Cooler climates such as London and Dublin have fewer cumulus clouds. Often they have more uniform stratus clouds that do not have the frequent vertical columns of air.
Turbulence can occur anywhere but a sunny, hot day in Florida, combined with cumulus clouds, will provide a few bumps for airplanes flying through them.
John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.