Home Travel After dramatic footage captured a BA plane being struck by lightning, pilots reveal how often lightning strikes planes, what it does to them and whether passengers should be worried…

After dramatic footage captured a BA plane being struck by lightning, pilots reveal how often lightning strikes planes, what it does to them and whether passengers should be worried…

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Dramatic footage captured the moment a British Airways plane was struck by lightning as it approached Heathrow Airport on Sunday

Dramatic footage captured the moment a British Airways plane was struck by lightning as it approached Heathrow Airport on Sunday.

One passenger described the event as “shocking.”

But how worried should passengers be if their plane is struck by lightning?

I’m not too worried at all, is the response from the experts. Here is veteran ex-pilot Terry Tozer, author of Confessions of an Airline Pilot: Why Do Planes Crash?Air Canada Captain Doug Morris and James Moy, flight instructor at Flight Sport Aviationreveal how common lightning is and what happens to an airplane when it is struck by lightning.

How common are lightning strikes on airplanes?

Dramatic footage captured the moment a British Airways plane was struck by lightning as it approached Heathrow Airport on Sunday

In his book This Is Your Captain Speaking, Doug Morris explains: “Statistics show that a passenger aircraft is struck (by lightning) every 5,000 hours, or about once a year. The FAA estimates that all U.S. passenger aircraft will be struck by lightning once a year.”

What happens to an airplane when it is struck by lightning?

Not much, reveals Terry, who explains: ‘Lightning can mess up some of the instruments, but it’s not usually a really serious problem because the aircraft is not grounded. You can have lightning coming in at one end and coming out at the other and there may only be superficial damage.

‘I only experienced it once – we had a small hole in the nose cone and the exit point on the tail had burned a small piece of the tail fin support, so it had to be taken out of service.

‘It was fine for a temporary flight without passengers.

‘After a lightning strike, the aircraft will likely need to be inspected to ensure that all compasses and electronic components have not failed.’

What do pilots do when lightning strikes their plane? Do they notice?

In his book This Is Your Captain Speaking, Doug Morris (above) explains:

In his book This Is Your Captain Speaking, Doug Morris (above) explains: “Statistics show that a passenger aircraft is struck (by lightning) every 5,000 hours, or about once a year. The FAA estimates that all passenger aircraft in the U.S. will be struck once a year.”

AIRCRAFT ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY LIGHTNING STRIKES

It is very rare for an aircraft to crash as a result of a lightning strike. The last aircraft accident directly attributable to lightning probably occurred in 1988.

Flight 108 of the Nürnberger Flugdienst, 1988

On 8 February 1988, all 21 occupants of Nürnberger Flugdienst Flight 108 from Hanover to Düsseldorf lost their lives when the aircraft, a Swearingen Metroliner, was struck by lightning during its approach to Düsseldorf Airport and disintegrated. An investigation concluded that the lightning had disrupted the plane’s electrical systems and that the pilots had subsequently become disoriented. The aircraft entered an unrecoverable spin and broke up after one of the flaps, without electrical power, jammed and then failed.

Pan Am Flight 214 – 1963

On December 8, 1963, a lightning strike ignited one of the fuel tanks on Pan Am Flight 214, a Boeing 707, causing it to explode between Baltimore and Philadelphia. All 81 people on board were killed.

Terry said: “Probably, but it depends on what’s happening. You could be flying through clouds and see a bright flash, but you wouldn’t necessarily know you were hit by it unless there was some other indication, like the instruments behaving strangely or something.”

James commented: “A lightning strike can cause temporary disruption to communications or navigation systems, but modern aircraft are equipped to withstand and dissipate the energy of a lightning strike. Aircraft systems are designed to continue to operate normally after a lightning strike.”

Terry added: ‘

Can pilots anticipate lightning strikes?

Terry said: ‘Typically on a modern aircraft, like the last regional aircraft I flew, there is lightning detection equipment and also weather radar.

‘Lightning usually comes from cumulonimbus storm clouds and usually shows up on radar.

‘From time to time, there are “dry storms” that, if they don’t have enough moisture to show up on radar, can sneak up on you.

“But if you have lightning detectors, they usually show you where the lightning is.”

What might passengers experience?

Terry said: ‘There have been dramatic stories of balls of lightning travelling across the cabin from one end to the other, no doubt terrifying everyone.

“But he’s not likely to do anything drastic.”

Should passengers be worried?

Terry said: “Not really. Your job at the spearhead is risk management, so it’s not an ideal situation to be struck by lightning, so obviously you’d try to avoid it.

It would probably be worse if you encountered heavy hail, because that can cause physical damage to the aircraft.

“We’ve seen broken warheads and damaged windows, but hail should show up on weather radar.

‘Weather is powerful and unpredictable and all risks can never be completely eliminated.

“But generally speaking, lightning is something that most modern aircraft are capable of dealing with.”

James agreed: “The pilot can communicate with passengers, reassuring them and providing updates as needed, but in general, there is no cause for alarm. Passengers should have confidence in the aircraft’s ability to withstand lightning strikes.”

Terry added that lightning is generally nothing more than a “damn nuisance… because if the plane gets hit and you have to re-adjust the compasses and restart it and then it’s out of service, the whole schedule is disrupted… it’s not going to destroy vital structures or anything like that.”

Veteran ex-pilot Terry Tozer, author of Confessions of an Airline Pilot: Why Planes Crash, told MailOnline that lightning is usually nothing more than a

Veteran ex-pilot Terry Tozer, author of Confessions of an Airline Pilot: Why Planes Crash, told MailOnline that lightning is usually nothing more than a “nuisance”.

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