Flying Over The Rooftops
With aircraft taking off into the air again as the Covid-19 appears to wind down, international flight is kicking back into gear. This week, we are going to have a look at some important aspects of flying, particularly flight over well-developed or highly populated areas. Strap in your seatbelts and be ready for rattling tiles!
Are you familiar with flight altitude? For those who aren't, flight altitude is the height at which aircraft fly above the ground. For commercial aeroplanes, the average flight altitude would be between 31,000 and 38,000 feet above ground level. This converts to roughly 9.4km and 11.6km respectively. Planes can actually fly much higher than 38,000 feet, however there are a number of safety issues which come with flying at too high an altitude. One prime example would the risk of the plane being struck by lightning! The plane also increases in weight as it climbs higher, which results in the aircraft burning more fuel and results in a more expensive flight.
Flying over cities
Flying over cities is different to flying over farmland or water. Passing over highly populated areas generally requires pilots to adjust their altitudes and climb higher so as to avoid disturbing the inhabitants of the area. In America, flights are overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, which aims to keep pilots away from urban areas, however in situations when it necessary, it tries to keep pilots flying as high as they safely can so that the peace of the town or city below is not broken. Cities in the USA do generally ask pilots not to fly over their land, however they don't actually have the power to enforce these rules, as authority is not given to local councils or the state. In the UK, low flying military aircraft (low flying meaning 250ft) are quite common in the countryside, but aren't permitted to fly over cities. Unless you live near an airport, you shouldn't be disturbed.
Landing in cities
Landing in cities can be tough. Pilots have to navigate the urban skyscape before touching down on a narrow strip of land at the local airbase. Consider how quickly they have to make their descent! One notably dangerous airport was Kai Tak in Hong Kong. The airport suffered numerous botched or abandoned landings due to poor conditions. A number of pilots did in fact miss the runway so badly that they fell into the city's waterfront. To touch down, pilots would have to fly through a number of high-rise buildings before reaching the dangerously overcrowded landing strips. Pilots would also have to take the notorious "Hong Kong Turn", a mid-air change in direction which could overbalance the aeroplane and cause fatal crashes. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and Kai Tak was converted into a port for cruise liners - no aeroplanes have landed there since 1998.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors which pilots must take account of when passing over urban areas! Thankfully, pilots are well-trained, and it's very unlikely that you will be in any danger in the air. So, on your next flight, feel secure and confident in the skills of your pilot and enjoy your ride through the clouds!