Earlier today, there was a close shave at Christchurch Airport. This was due to a lightning bolt striking right next to an Emirates Airbus A380 parked on a runway at the hub.
A pilot from Garden City Helicopters caught the moment that the bolt struck the ground, on camera. The incident happened at 15:30 local time (02:30 UTC).
“The view out our window onto the tarmac today!” the pilot’s company wrote on Facebook. “The Emirates plane waiting for the storm to pass.”
The BBC reports that local weather forecasters warned of thunderstorms in the New Zealand city. The region of Canterbury had suffered servers storms, causing egg-size hailstorms in some areas. Subsequently, this is what caused the strike that nearly hit the airliner.
Could it have been critical?
Even though it seems that it would cause a catastrophic incident, modern jetliners should protect passengers from lightning. Due to the obvious risk, the aircraft are designed to withstand the strikes. Moreover, when a bolt hits a jet, it is protected from the impact.
The current from the strike arcs through the aircraft’s fuselage, before exiting through the plane’s tail. All sensitive materials, such as electronics and wires are isolated from the exterior. Therefore, the energy passes through the outer shell.
There would still be a huge bang, which would no doubt frighten passengers onboard. Ultimately, the conductive metal shell of the aircraft would block those inside it from the bolt.
This design is based on the Faraday cage concept. This is an enclosure to block electromagnetic fields. It is named after pioneering British scientist Michael Faraday.
However, the situation hasn’t always been as safe. Previous designs caused some planes to be vulnerable in the past. According to Scientific American, the last confirmed commercial flight that crashed due to lightning was in 1967.
Here, the strike caused a fuel tank to explode. Over the years, there have been improvements in design. Along with this, aircraft have to go through intense lightning certification tests to validate their safety.
Despite improvements, aircraft aren’t invincible against lightning. Some damage to the body may still occur. Earlier this year, another Emirates A380 was grounded at Munich International Airport following a lightning strike. Even though the aircraft landed safely, it was not deemed safe for flight. This then forced the return flight to Dubai to be canceled.
In August, two Swiss International Airlines planes were struck by lightning shortly after takeoff. This forced the A321-200s to return to Zurich International Airport for safe landings.
Simple Flying reached out to Emirates for further comment on today’s incident but did not hear back before publication. We will update the article with any further announcements.
What do you think of today’s near-miss in Christchurch? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.