Looking out of an aircraft at a lightning storm can be quite alarming, but in reality they pose little threat to aircraft, the last time a plane was brought down by lightning was in 1963.
In actual fact, on average every plane gets hit by lightning once a year – or approximately once every 1,000 flying hours.
Modern aircraft are designed to withstand hundreds of thousands of amps with the most focus being centered around safeguarding the aircraft’s fuel tanks.
All possible precautions are taken to ensure that it is impossible for a spark to trigger a fuel explosion, the biggest threat to an aircraft.
Most modern aircraft are made of a composite rather than aluminium which was used on older aircraft. It is estimated that a lightning strike causes 200,000 amperes of the run through the aircraft’s skin.
The electricity will always follow the outer skin of the aircraft before jumping back into the air via a small antenna called a static wick.
Usually, when an aircraft has been struck by lightning there is no visible evidence. Occasionally, there may be minimal damage to the wing tips or tail which have acted as lightning rods.
Any aircraft that is struck by lightning will be checked by ground crew but is usually fine to undertake its next flight.
In the past concerns have been raised about the amount of static that is created and its effect on the electronic equipment.
Extensive research has been conducted as no threat has been witnessed and aircraft are becoming increasingly protected from lightning with the rules within the aeronautics industry becoming stricter on an annual basis.
Improvements to radar have also made it far easier for pilots to avoid storms. In conjunction with ground crew, a great deal information is exchanged meaning that a number of different conditions can be avoided including turbulence.
The greatest threat posed to aircraft from lightning is when it is on the ground and refueling and loading luggage is taking place.
Metal staircases are also a threat for passengers and this is why most aircraft keep all doors closed and distance themselves from the airport.