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Bumpy descents into Alaska's capital city may soon get smoother

Alaska Dispatch

If you've ever flown into Alaska's capital city, then you've probably experienced the occasional unpleasant jolt of turbulence. Aviation officials in Juneau are now looking into a system that will lessen the bumps of decent and lead to smoother landings.

Currently, the Juneau Airport is the only one in the U.S. to have the federally sanctioned turbulence-detection technology, known as the Juneau Airport Wind System, or JAWS, The Associated Press reports. The new system will help alert pilots to "pockets of turbulence and highlights corridors of smoother air," insureing a safer touch-down on the capital tarmac. 

Alaska Airlines, the only commercial carrier that serves Juneau, estimates that the information provided by the on-flight system has aided more than 800 addition safe arrivals and departures last year. Deputy Manager of Juneau's airport, Patricia deLaBrueren, calls the system extremely important. She believes it will lead to safer flying in and out of the Juneau area. According to AP:

(The) FAA said that after it was determined that a warning system would be possible it asked the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which had designed a similar system for an airport in Hong Kong, to develop one for Juneau.

The process involved documenting where the winds were and understanding how the wind patterns correlated to areas of turbulence, said Alan Yates, the center’s JAWS program manager. Research aircraft was sent out when the weather was bad to gather data, and the center’s team also installed instruments along the coast and atop mountains near the airport.

The center says those instruments transmit data “multiple times” a minute, to help give pilots a near-real time read of conditions.

Yates called this a “one-off system,” unique to Juneau. But he said the technology exists to build a similar system elsewhere and with new techniques, in less time.