May 17, 2024

Navigating Through Climate Change: The Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act Signed into Law with FAA Reauthorization

Posted by Caitlin Bergstrom

On 16 May 2024, the bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, which included the Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act. Introduced by Representative Haley Stevens (MI-11) and endorsed by AGU, this legislation marks a critical milestone in our ongoing efforts to tackle the increasingly severe impacts of climate change on aviation safety.

The Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act enhances the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ability to monitor and comprehend severe turbulence, which has become a more frequent and dangerous phenomenon due to rising global temperatures. The urgency of this issue was underscored by Rep. Stevens, who highlighted the significant number of turbulence-related injuries among passengers and crew—an alarming trend that this legislation seeks to reverse.

With the backing of both the American Geophysical Union and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act sets forth measures to improve data collection and forecasting of turbulence. This includes a focus on clear-air turbulence (CAT), which can be dangerous because it occurs without visible warning in the sky and difficult to avoid.

Janice R. Lachance, Interim Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union expressed profound support for the legislation, noting, “The frequency of severe turbulence is increasing and poses a serious safety risk. Scientific evidence now shows this increase is tied to rising global temperatures. The legislation introduced by Congresswoman Stevens would support critical research needed to further our understanding, monitor this dangerous phenomenon, and safeguard travelers and crew.”

This Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act not only mandates the FAA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance turbulence monitoring and predictions but also requires that this critical data be made accessible to the broader scientific and aviation communities. By doing so, it aims to foster an environment where long-term strategies can be developed to mitigate the effects of severe turbulence, ensuring safer air travel for both crew and passengers.

AGU recognizes the importance of leveraging scientific research to inform policy decisions. The passage and signing of the Severe Turbulence Research and Development Act demonstrate a commendable example of science and policy merging to address the real-world impacts of climate change.

This legislation represents a proactive step toward ensuring that our skies remain safe as we face the challenges brought on by a changing climate. It’s a testament to the power of informed, science-backed policymaking and a reminder of the importance of proactive legislative leadership in safeguarding the public.