This is a monumental task that requires meticulous preparation, especially when it comes to the altitudes at which planes take off and land.
Various factors, including the kind of aircraft, the distance to your destination, the engine type, the severity of the winds, and the weight of the plane, necessitate that planes fly at a specific height.
Here’s everything you need to know about plane altitudes:
How Far Do Planes Fly in Actual Fact?
One reason planes travel above the clouds is to maximize their speed. According to Ryan Jorgenson, an aviation data analyst, the higher airplanes rise, the thinner the air becomes and the more effectively they can fly due to less resistance in the atmosphere.
“When these larger planes take off from airports, their primary objective is to get out and as high as possible as rapidly as possible,” explains Adam Beckman, an aviation studies lecturer at Ohio State University.
According to Beckman, commercial aircraft normally fly between 31,000 and 38,000 feet — approximately 5.9 to 7.2 miles — above sea level and frequently reach their cruising altitudes within the first ten minutes of flight.
Although planes can fly far higher than this altitude, this poses safety concerns. Flying higher entails a longer time required to descend to a safe altitude in the event of an emergency, such as fast decompression, Beckman explains.
Additionally, he continues, flying so high is not the most economical use of fuel, as planes can travel at a lower height with the help of wind.
Another reason planes cannot fly higher is due to the aircraft’s weight. “The more weight you have, the more difficult it is to reach a specific height,” Jorgenson explains.
And the plane’s weight varies as it ascends higher into the sky. “Jet fuel weighs around 6.7 pounds per gallon, so the more gasoline you use while flying, the more fuel you lose,” Jorgenson explains.
This, in combination with the thinner atmosphere at this altitude, results in less resistance.
Wind direction is also critical. “If I’m travelling from Philadelphia to Europe, it will take me less time to get there than it will to get back,” says Bob Cowgill, Managing Director of ACI Aviation Consulting.
“Oftentimes, you’ll discover that you’re able to fly higher heights with the wind at your back.”
The potential speed of an airplane rises as it ascends. “At 10,000 feet and above, you may lawfully fly at a considerably faster speed,” explains Dr. Thomas Carney, a Purdue University professor of aviation and transportation technology.
This also explains why you feel the jet slow down as it approaches the runway.
Then Why Don’t Tiny Planes or Helicopters Fly at the Same Altitude?
That begs the question: why don’t private planes fly as According to the National Business Aviation Association, most of these planes use piston engines that run like a car’s engine and have limited power.
This sort of engine hinders smaller planes from reaching commercial aircraft heights.
“The planes that the typical person can hire and fly normally stay below 15,000 feet, and that’s just a limit,” Beckman adds.
Additionally, pilots avoid flying these sorts of planes at higher altitudes due to potential health dangers such as hypoxia, which occurs when tissues lack sufficient oxygen, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to the FAA, this loss of oxygen can occur at greater altitudes owing to a drop in oxygen pressure. As the plane ascends, the oxygen level lowers, which can result in a fast decompression in an aircraft that is not pressurized in the same way a commercial flight is.
Wasn’t it helicopters? Choppers are mostly used for short distance flights and often fly at a lower altitude than airplanes, typically less than 10,000 feet.
Additionally, they are unable to reach the same altitude as an airplane due to the fact that helicopters fly using revolving blades rather than wings.
So, How Does the Height Compare to Acrobatics? Do Birds Ever Obstruct?
Birds are more prone to hinder flights at low altitudes, posing difficulties during takeoff and landing. The extreme example would be the US Airways flight that landed on the Hudson, but Jorgenson says it is not normal.
However, experts agree that after flights reach cruising altitude, birds cease to be a hazard. Therefore, once the seatbelt signals are activated, you may unwind and enjoy the journey.