Ever wonder what’s going on behind the controls or how takeoff speed is determined? Now’s your chance to get answers. 

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Q. Is it required to inspect the airplane after undergoing heavy turbulence? Like any joints got stressed?

A. The short answer is yes. However, a few more details are necessary.

Airplanes are built to incredibly high standards and stresses. They are certified for extremes that should never be experienced in the life cycle of an airframe to ensure that the airplane can meet and exceed all that could possibly be expected in the life of an airplane.

When an airplane goes through a turbulence event, it always feels much worse to the passenger because we are so used to the smooth or moderately choppy air and not the abrupt and hard jolts associated with turbulence. We characterized turbulence with variable degrees such as light, moderate or severe, and of the 700,000 flights a year American operates, we average fewer than 20 to 30 flights where the flight crew has reported severe turbulence. It is left to the discretion of the pilots to determine what level of severity they believe the turbulence was (and we always tend to think it is more severe than it actually is). Upon landing, the airplane is taken out of service until our Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) can inspect and download all the available flight data to determine the loads and stress the airframe actually experienced. We seldom find any damage to the airplane. In the rare instances that we do, our Maintenance team takes the action necessary to return the aircraft to flying status.

Capt. Bart Roberts, a 27-year veteran at American, answers this month’s questions. He flies the 777 and is currently serving as American’s Chief Pilot Line Operations. 

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