Hurricanes and aviation typically just don’t mix. With the exception of certain aircraft engaged in hurricane hunting, aircraft usually steer well clear of any area where there are hurricanes.
Hurricane Dorian is making its way towards Florida. The hurricane is expected to cause severe disruption to air travel. As a result, airlines have been issuing travel waivers to those whose plans could be affected by the hurricane. In the case of United Airlines, a travel waiver allows passengers to rebook a flight without a change fee. Hurricane Dorian is expected to make landfall in Florida next week on Tuesday.
So, how does the FAA prepare?
The FAA’s control towers in hurricane-prone areas are specifically designed for the meteorological phenomenon. In fact, according to the FAA, control towers can withstand winds to the tune of 55 to 75 miles per hour. As such, they play a vital role in dealing with the hurricane.
Air traffic controllers will remain at their post for as long as possible, thereby ensuring that control is available to those who might need it. When winds reach a maximum permitted wind value, the controllers will leave the tower and take sanctuary in a bunker in the tower’s base.
Air traffic control tower employees will wait out the storm in their bunker. This is when the most important stage of dealing with hurricanes comes in, the aftermath. As soon as it is safe, air traffic controllers will immediately return to their position.
As a result, once the storm has passed, aircraft that should be above the disaster zone can be controlled again. This could be anything from a search and rescue aircraft, to an aircraft surveying the extent of the damage that had been caused.
There is also a lot of preparation before the storm, and equal amounts of repair work taking place following the storm. According to the FAA, prior to a hurricane, preparation teams are dispatched. Their primary directive is to protect equipment “to the greatest extent possible to enable flights to resume quickly after the storm passes”. This includes checking that backup generators work in case of a loss of power.
However, after the hurricane has passed, the FAA also has a lot of work to do. If any equipment has been damaged or taken offline, the agency will work urgently to restore it. They prioritize the most critical equipment.
The FAA’s role then switches to manning the airspace. This will involve coordinating flights. However, the FAA also makes a point that drones should generally not be flown in a disaster zone. This is allowed in rare circumstances with the proper permission to aid search and rescue. The FAA says: “Don’t Be That Guy!”.
Will your travel plans be affected by the incoming hurricane? Let us know in the comments.