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Airplanes and lightning strikes

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Martin Rosenbaum | 10:51 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It's still not clear what happened to the Air France Airbus 330 which disappeared en route from Rio to Paris, but the airline has suggested that it may have been struck by lightning.

LightningIn fact, it is not uncommon for planes to be hit by lightning. In 2006 the BBC made a freedom of information request to the Civil Aviation Authority for details of incidents from the previous five years where aircraft had been hit by lightning.

The CAA told us that in 2001 to 2006 there were 162 cases reported where a lightning strike had resulted in damage to an aircraft or malfunction of an essential service, for example navigation systems. This data only covers planes in the service of UK operators. (We don't have the information since 2006).

The CAA reports included two instances of an Airbus 330 being struck. In one case [105KB PDF] in 2005, it led to a temporary loss of flight indications such as airspeed and altimeters. In the other case [105KB PDF] in 2003, systems were mainly unaffected but on landing several holes were discovered along the side of the plane.

According to this material sent to the BBC under FOI in 2006 by the CAA, EMB-145 aircraft (generally used on short-haul domestic flights) cropped up particularly often in the reports of lightning strikes.


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