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Why do flight operations stop during a thunderstorm?

14.06.2019

Due to the current weather conditions, thunderstorms often occur in and around Berlin as well as throughout Germany because of the heat. When there is thunder and lightning, passengers are suddenly stranded on airplanes or transfer buses on the apron, luggage belts stand still, flights are cancelled – especially during the summer holiday high season, this is a great nuisance for many passengers. So why does processing stop and baggage claim become delayed during a thunderstorm? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about flight operations during thunderstorms:

Why does processing at the airport have to stop during a thunderstorm?

Lightning strikes always land on a surface at the highest point, where it is then channelled to the ground. The apron and the runways are mostly unobstructed, that is, there are few masts or other objects that can act as a lightning rod. Everyone who is on the airfield is therefore exposed to the acute danger of lightning being channelled through them into the ground. Therefore, all airport employees have to leave airport operation areas during a thunderstorm for their own safety.

What happens at the airport when the thunderstorm alarm is triggered?

If the thunderstorm alarm is triggered at the airport, all employees on airport operation areas must immediately seek out a vehicle, an aircraft or a building. Usually, the announcement is timely enough that they have a few minutes to get to safety. Aircraft and luggage processing will immediately be stopped. Passengers in aircraft or transfer buses on the apron are not permitted to leave them.

Why do airplanes take off and land despite the thunderstorm?

Aircraft that are already able to take off at the time of the thunderstorm alarm are permitted to take off, and approaching aircraft may land. The interior of an aircraft acts as a Faraday cage, which offers protection against lightning. However, aircraft that has landed cannot be processed during an acute thunderstorm, since no one is allowed to be on the airport operation areas.

Why is aircraft and baggage processing delayed hours after a thunderstorm has ended?

When flight operations are resumed after a thunderstorm warning, take-off and landing of all waiting aircraft occur one after another within a short amount of time. For airport employees, this is an enormous challenge, so operations are often delayed for several hours.

Why is processing often stopped before the thunderstorm is even there?

Lightning can travel several kilometres through the air before it strikes the earth. For safety reasons, airport employees will be removed from airport operation areas in a timely manner.

The weather is great in Berlin, yet there are delays in operations anyway. Why is that?

Large parts of Germany may be exposed to acute thunderstorm hazards, for example, so delays in operations at other airports can set off a chain reaction and therefore affect the processes at Berlin airports as well.

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