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Why do planes fly at 35,000 feet?

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13 Mar 2017

Discount Insurance News - 13.3.17


Most of us know that planes fly at an altitude of 35,000 feet but how many of us have ever asked why?


One of the main reasons for aircrafts flying at this height is to save money! The higher you are the thinner the air and planes can travel more easily and move faster while burning less fuel.


The optimum height to fly is considered to be between 35,000 and 42,000. Below this and the air resistance is greater, but too high means that oxygen becomes too sparse to fuel the engines.


However, the perfect altitude is also dependant on the weight of the aircraft so if the plane is heavier than the average commercial jet, it will often fly lower than 35,000 while those that are lighter will fly higher.


“Each individual aircraft has an optimum altitude (for minimum cost or minimum fuel burn) which will be based on its individual weight,” explains Peter Terry, a commercial airline pilot of 30 years.


“Concorde flew at much higher altitudes – 50,000/60,000 feet – where there were no other aircraft and so were able to cruise climb [that is keep climbing].”


In addition, flying at an altitude of 35,000 means that aeroplanes are able to avoid other aircraft such as light planes or helicopters which often fly lower. Flying at this height also enables pilots to avoid insects and birds.


Light aircraft are required to fly below 10,000 feet because their cabins are not usually pressurised and flying higher would mean that passengers would require an oxygen mask to remain conscious.


The higher you climb, the colder it gets up there, for example, if it was 20C at ground level then at 35,000 it would be approximately -54C.


Flying high also means that aeroplanes are able to avoid a large proportion of the bad weather that people on the ground have to deal with.


The layer of atmosphere closest to the ground is known as the troposphere and is home to much of the world’s weather phenomenon.


This is where clouds, heavy rains and high winds are most likely which is why sometimes you are able to see bright blue skies from your aeroplane seat before landing at your destination to find that it’s gloomy and raining.


Flying in the stratosphere also means that there is less turbulence!


What’s more, flying so high is beneficial because if something was to go wrong while airborne, the pilot has much longer to deal with the situation!


If you’re flying somewhere soon, don’t forget to get your Travel Insurance in place so that you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind!