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Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj
Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj

Aviation

Ask the pilot: Can airplanes be struck by lightning?

How do airplanes actually fly, what exactly is turbulence and why are airplane windows always round? The best people to answer your questions about the wonders of aviation are SAS pilots.

Name: Susanne Ryhl
Age: 56
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

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Can planes be struck by lightning and how far away from a lightning storm should you fly?

Birgitta

Hi Birgitta,

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

If you have a question about aviation, send it to [email protected] and watch for the answer in an upcoming issue.

Last edited: March 2, 2017

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