The Effect of Industrial Exhaust (Thermal) Plume Turbulence on Aircraft

Industrial exhaust (thermal) plumes and turbulence associated with power plant operations has been adopted as a safety issue within the General Aviation community.  This issue has arisen even though no data exists which indicates an exhaust plume constitutes unacceptable risk to aircraft.


Quite the contrary; in 2006 the FAA conducted a Safety Risk Analysis of aircraft overflight of industrial exhaust plumes and determined that the impacts and risks during overflight are insignificant , even without mitigation.  According to the FAA, over the past 30 years there have been no aircraft accidents or incidents attributed to aircraft overflight of industrial exhaust (thermal) plumes.


The FAA, in their Safety Risk Analysis of Aircraft Overflight of Industrial Exhaust Plums, stated “We would expect that any plume encounter would be a relatively benign event.  The pilot’s mental and/or physical resources would not be so task-overloaded as to preclude a safe maneuver out of and away from the condition.


A national FDC NOTAM is currently active which restricts pilots from overflying power plants and other structures.  Although primarily intended for national security purposes, an unintended consequence is that this NOTAM also precludes pilots from flying over or through exhaust plumes.  Pilots complying with this regulatory requirement will not be affected by the minimal turbulence generated by an industrial plume.


Pilots must also comply with FAA regulatory minimum altitudes which prohibit flight closer than 500 feet to structures such as power plants and associated stacks. 


Williams Aviation Consultants Inc. offers our expertise to companies considering the construction of industrial plants with associated exhaust (thermal) plumes as a viable resource concerning interactions with permitting authorities and the General Aviation Community at large.


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