Airlines work closely with meteorologists. Picture: Virgin Australia
Airlines work closely with meteorologists. Picture: Virgin Australia

This is why your flight is delayed

AUSTRALIANS have been reminded lately how a spot of bad weather can send air travel into total meltdown.

Wild storms in Sydney in late November caused massive delays and cancellations that left thousands of passengers stranded, initially in Sydney and then with a ripple effect across the national network.

It came just a week after wild winds in Sydney made it difficult for planes to take off and land, delaying domestic and international travellers for hours.

And with the arrival of Australia's summer storm season threatening more chaos, Virgin Australia has explained exactly why, and how, thunderstorms cause flights to be delayed.

The airline has released a video with expert commentary from a pilot, air traffic controller, meteorologist and other experts to explain why the difficult decision to delay flights is made.

"Thunderstorms are a very significant issue for airlines and can be very dangerous weather events," Virgin Australia meteorologist Manfred Greitschus said.

 

Recent wild storms in Sydney delayed thousands of passengers across the country. Picture: Virgin Australia
Recent wild storms in Sydney delayed thousands of passengers across the country. Picture: Virgin Australia

 

"Depending on the severity of the storm, it has the potential to influence the way we plan flights to avoid flying through any dangerous storm cells.

"When thunderstorms are producing lightening within eight kilometres of an airport, we need to shut down operations on the ramp and this can cause delayed or cancelled flights."

The video explains how operations will not only be affected by storms at the airport of departure or arrival, but storms that may be encountered en route.

And as airlines like Virgin Australia maintain complex schedule for planes, a storm disrupting one route can trigger delays across the grid.

"The ripple effect can be significant," Virgin Australia's OCC duty manager Damien Vezzoli said.

 

Airlines work closely with meteorologists. Picture: Virgin Australia
Airlines work closely with meteorologists. Picture: Virgin Australia

 

"If we take off out of Melbourne, for example, (the aircraft) may not necessarily be going back to Melbourne. It may go Melbourne to Coolangatta and then on to Sydney and then onto Townsville, so that will obviously have an impact down the line."

Airservices Australia air traffic controller Stefan Burroughs explained how the decision is made to ground flights in storms.

"During a storm event aircraft will deviate from their normal treks and this has an effect on us where we can only accept so many aircraft to arrive and depart," he said.

"And it's better to keep aircraft on the ground and it's a lot safer for the aircraft and for the passengers.

 

The safety of passengers is the number one concern. Picture: Virgin Australia
The safety of passengers is the number one concern. Picture: Virgin Australia

 

"When there is a storm event we work with the airlines to discuss options and what we have is a ground delay program when we can recalculate time of departures to facilitate better departure rates and arrival rates to try and minimise delays. This is done via our National Co-ordination Centre in Canberra and via all the major city airports."

Virgin Australia's customer disruption controller, Cameron Todd, said any planned or foreseeable delays to flights were communicated to passengers via text and email.

"It's really important to us to be able to get in touch with you as quickly as possible," he said. "What helps us do that is having your most up-to-date contact information."

 

Storms in one part of the country can impact air travel elsewhere. Picture: Virgin Australia
Storms in one part of the country can impact air travel elsewhere. Picture: Virgin Australia

 

The video on how thunderstorms affect flights is part of a series from Virgin Australia that explain behind-the-scenes decisions that affect passengers' travel plans.

"We understand that cancellations and delays are very frustrating but we want guests to know that their safety is most important to us," the airline's general manager of network operations Andrew Lillyman said.

"We're hoping these videos will also provide the public with some information about what happens behind the scenes and why we make the decisions we do."

What's important for passengers to remember is delays or cancellations caused by weather are considered outside an airline's control, which means travel insurance may not cover any costs associated with changed travel plans.



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