Wellington has been named the most turbulent airport in New Zealand, as well as one of the top three airports in the world to get the pulse racing on landing and taking off.

Flight turbulence forecaster Turbli has looked at 500 of the largest airports in the world and the shaky skies surrounding them.

It measures turbulence by Eddy Dissipation Rate (EDR) with 0-20 being light, 20-40 as moderate, 40-80 as severe, and extreme at 80-100.

It found that Wellington had an average EDR of 16.318, placing it just behind Sendai Airport in Natori, Japan (16.657) and the most turbulent airport in the world last year, Chile’s Santiago (17.137).

The initial figures had Christchurch as the most turbulent airport in the country, but after queries from Stuff Travel, a fault was found in the data collection which then vaulted Wellington up the chart.

Christchurch came second in New Zealand and in the Oceania region, and 10th worldwide with an EDR of 15.482. Auckland was the only other Kiwi airport measured and finished 8th in Oceania with 12.71.

Earlier this year, Ardmore Flying School A-Cat examiner Warren Sattler told Stuff that Wellington was renowned for its bumpy runway approaches.

The biggest single concern is wind shear, he said, which is a sudden drop off in wind. Big passenger planes will often land 1000ft past the start of the runway – just in case they encounter wind shear, Sattler said.

MetService meteorologist Philippa Murdoch told Stuff that if the wind above the hills was from the west or east, but surface winds were northerly or southerly, planes could encounter strong wind shear.

“The runway is set up north to south because of these prevailing winds. However, crosswinds from less common directions can make landings and takeoffs bumpy – and make for some dramatic video footage.”

What is turbulence?

It’s a mixture of meteorological, atmospheric and geological factors.

Many factors can cause this chaotic air including mountains and thunderstorms. For example, the location and topography around Wellington Airport can lead to particularly bumpy landings.

There are four levels of turbulence: light, moderate, severe and extreme.

What are the different kinds of turbulence?

There are a few, including jet-stream, terrain-induced, clear-air, and convective. It can be caused by a collection of things such as wind speed, changes in wind direction, temperature changes, and things you can’t see.

Jet-stream is commonly caused by air current flowing around high- and low-pressure systems, terrain-induced is a result of land formations stirring up the air; while convective is thanks to clouds.

The most concerning one is clean-air.

The wind-shear phenomenon can occur in wispy cirrus clouds or even clear air near thunderstorms, as differences in temperature and pressure create powerful currents of fast-moving air, reported the Associated Press. Planes can sail into clear-air turbulence without warning.

Should passengers be worried about turbulence?

While there are some flights which have hit the headlines due to injuries caused by turbulence, they are rare considering the number of people flying each day.

It is very common to get some bumps on a flight, but that’s why crew ask passengers to keep seat-belts on, even when the sign is off. Those who are really worried about turbulence should look at booking seats in the centre of the plane by the wings.

Airports with the highest average turbulence in 2023 (EDR measure in brackets)

  1. Santiago, Chile (17.137)
  2. Natori, Japan (16.657)
  3. Wellington (16.318)
  4. Sapporo (Japan) 16.305
  5. Osaka (Japan) 16.12
  6. Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) 15.993
  7. Tokoname (Japan) 15.885
  8. Lanzhou (China) 15.8
  9. Tokyo (Japan) 15.545
  10. Christchurch 15.482

What’s the roughest landing you have had in New Zealand or worldwide? Let us know in the comments below.

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