Ask the pilot: Can airplanes be struck by lightning?
Name: Susanne Ryhl
Career: Joined SAS as a flight attendant in 1985. Became a pilot in 1991 and an SAS First Officer in 1996. Became an SAS Flight Captain in 2015.
Home base: CPH
Flies: Airbus A319/320/321
Flight hours: 12,000
Can planes be struck by lightning and how far away from a lightning storm should you fly?
Yes, a plane can be struck by lightning, but it happens very rarely. During my 21 years of flying, it has only happened to me once.
When flying in areas with rain showers and possible lightning, we always use our onboard weather radar to detect possible storm cells that contain hail, turbulence or lightning. The general rule is that we circumnavigate (fly around) these active cells by approximately 20 nautical miles (70km).
It almost never happens, but if a lighting strike or static discharge does occur, it may damage the avionics. The risk of harm from this for the crew and passengers is, however, small. The various systems are checked when re-entering smooth air and an inspection by a qualified technician always takes place after landing.
Flight Captain Susanne Ryhl
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Published: December 20, 2016
Last edited: March 2, 2017