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Update: Accordng to Allegiant Air, the flight through the hurricane area happened at a perfectly safe altitude. “In the case of flight 2237, the dispatcher and flight crew were not only looking at the height of the storm, which was returning tops of around 20,000 – 25,000ft, but also utilizing a cutting edge turbulence forecasting product,” the airline said in an email to TPG. “The flight was at 34,000ft with more than 10,000ft of clearance from the tops of the thunderstorms. Crew reported an entirely smooth, turbulence-free flight.” This story has been edited to reflect that.
Delta made international headlines last year for its well-planned and perfectly executed flight into San Juan, Puerto Rico, between the rain bands of Hurricane Irma.
Maybe Allegiant wanted the same sort of acclaim. Or, maybe it figured it could save some fuel by riding solid tailwinds from the hurricane on a flight from Bangor, Maine (BGR) to Orlando’s Sanford (SFB) airport.
For whatever reason, the ultra low-cost carrier decided to fly directly above Hurricane Florence while all other commercial flights flew around the storm. Here’s just how wide of a berth other flights gave Hurricane Florence compared to the Allegiant flight:
According to flight data, the 29-year old McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (registration N415NV) flew above Hurricane Florence at 34,000 feet and at a ground speed of up to 580mph. The flight arrived 30 minutes early — despite departing 12 minutes late.
That’s much, much faster than hurricane hunters would dare fly through the core of a hurricane. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal this week, veteran pilot Ben Blair explained why hurricane hunter pilots only fly at 200mph: “If you get too fast going through that kind of severe turbulence, it can bend things on the aircraft.”
That said, hurricane hunters usually only fly into and around hurricanes at 10,000 feet, far lower than the Allegiant flight did. So, to get an understanding of just how rough of a ride this would’ve been, I reached out to the National Weather Service. While they couldn’t speak to the weather conditions that this particular flight might have experienced, a spokesperson confirmed that the hurricane’s cirrus cloud shield ranged from 40,000 to 45,000 feet at the time the flight passed through the area.
It’s possible that the flight may have just skirted the outside of the core cloud wall — and in fact the crew, Allegiant says, reported a smooth flight. Even so, there’s another issue with flying so close to the storm: many airports in the area had closed due to the hurricane — limiting diversion options in case something went wrong.
H/T: Live Storm Chasers
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