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Solar storms and Polar flight ops

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Solar storms and Polar flight ops

Old 18th May 2024, 16:20
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Solar storms and Polar flight ops


I'm not a pilot and hope you forgive me for posting here, but of all places, there was an interesting discussion in Jet Blast (G4 Solar Geomagnetic Storm) about flight ops during a predicted solar storm. My question there was:

"These are questions for commercial pilots who fly polar routes. Do you change your routes if a solar storm is predicted? If so, why? Is it concen about damage to the aircraft or damage to ground or space-based navigational infrastructure? I'm well aware that satellites are often maneuvered or temporarily shut down when a major solar storm is forecast, but I've not heard that airlines do the same thing. If this belongs in another forum, please let me know. I think it's an interesting topic."

My background is in physics and astronomy, so I understand the potential threats of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). When a CME is detected, at-risk satellites are re-orientated or temporarily shut down to protect the electronics. Do airlines adjust polar routes when a storm is predicted or do you just carry on as normal?

I'm not asking as a journalist or anything like that; you can see what I post in Jet Blast if you need verification and if you PM me it will remain confidential. My interest in this is as a scientist, nothing more.
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Old 19th May 2024, 12:29
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Our company did change flight levels and routings where possible. Also advised crews what to expect and suggested some mitigations. Eg instead of GPS, use IRS in the affected regions (we're getting good at that with all the GPS jamming/spoofing going on).
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Old 20th May 2024, 06:12
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Thank you! I appreciate that you answered two questions I had in one go. The GPS satellites' risk was reasonably obvious. Still, I also wondered if airlines considered the potential increased radiation at altitude, especially in the polar regions, and it seems they did (or at least your company did). This was an unusual event, probably the most powerful solar storm the Earth has experienced in decades, so thank you again.
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