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Low Level Wind Shear

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Article Information
Category: Weather Weather
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Tag(s) Turbulence

This article covers the subjects of Wind Shear, Low Level Wind Shear, and Low-level Wind Shear Alert Systems


Wind shear is defined as a sudden change of wind velocity and/or direction.

Windshear may be vertical or horizontal, or a mixture of both types. ICAO defines the vertical and horizontal components of wind shear as follows:

  • Vertical wind shear is defined as change of horizontal wind direction and/or speed with height, as would be determined by means of two or more anemometers mounted at different heights on a single mast.
  • Horizontal wind shear is defined as change of horizontal wind direction and/or speed with horizontal distance, as would be determined by two or more anemometers mounted at the same height along a runway.


Low Level Turbulence , which may be associated with a frontal surface, with thunderstorms or convective clouds, with microbursts, or with the surrounding terrain, is particularly hazardous to aircraft departing or arriving at an aerodrome. Wind shear is usually associated with one of the following weather phenomena:


The main effects of wind shear are:

  • Turbulence
  • Violent air movement (up- or down-draughts or swirling or rotating air patterns)
  • Sudden increase or reduction of airspeed
  • Sudden increase or decrease of groundspeed and/or drift.

Clear Air Turbulence (CAT), which may be very severe, is often associated with jet streams.

Rotor action or down-draughts in the lee of mountain waves can create difficult flying conditions and may even lead to loss of control.


Effective defence against wind shear comprises the following components:

  • Forecasting, recognition and avoidance of wind shear (see below), aided by LLWAS (see below) and airborne avionics equipment; and,
  • Correct response to wind shear encountered during the takeoff, initial climb, approach and landing phases of flight.

Typical Scenarios

  • An aircraft on initial climb encounters a microburst with strong down-drafts, which prevent the aircraft from climbing away, even though the pilot immediately recognises the wind shear and takes correct action.
  • An aircraft on approach in head-wind conditions encounters horizontal wind shear resulting in a change of wind component to tail-wind; the aircraft touches down late and fast and overshoots the runway.


  • Improved forecasting of wind shear;
  • Improved training in wind shear recognition, avoidance and recovery;
  • More widespread use of ground and airborne wind shear warning systems.

Low Level Wind Shear Alert System

A Low Level Wind Shear Alert System (LLWAS) is a ground-based system for detecting the existence of wind shear close to an aerodrome.

The system comprises from 6 to 33 anemometers located at various points on the aerodrome surface. Data from the anemometers are fed into a computer which compares the wind speed and direction measured at the different points and provides a warning in the air traffic control tower if a hazardous wind shear is detected. Warnings issued by ATC can be general or runway specific, depending on the technology in use, and are broadcast immediately to pilots who may be affected.

LLWAS was first installed in the USA in the 1970's and is in widespread use in that country. Wind shear and microburst warnings from LLWAS can be enhanced by integrating with Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR); and in some locations TDWR is the sole means used for detecting low level wind shear.

Wind Shear Recognition and Avoidance

Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Briefing Note 5.4 — Wind Shear points out that "Flight crew awareness and alertness are key factors in the successful application of wind shear avoidance techniques and recovery techniques."

Whenever wind shear conditions are forecast, or reported by other aircraft, pilots should include discussion of wind shear recognition and response in the takeoff or approach brief.

Whether or not wind shear conditions are expected, the pilot must be able to recognise quickly when wind shear is affecting the aircraft. He/she may be aided in this by airport based warning systems (e.g. LLWAS and TDWR) or by onboard equipment, such as Ground Proximity Warning System or Airborne Wind Shear Warning Systems.

ALAR Briefing Note 5.4 lists the following indications of a suspected wind shear condition:

  • "Indicated airspeed variations in excess of 15 kts27.78 km/h
    7.71 m/s
  • Groundspeed variations (decreasing head wind or increasing tail wind, or a shift from head wind to tail wind)
  • Vertical-speed excursions of 500 fpm or more
  • Pitch attitude excursions of five degrees or more
  • Glideslope deviation of one dot or more
  • Heading variations of 10 degrees or more and,
  • Unusual autothrottle activity or throttle lever position."

Wind Shear on Takeoff and Initial Climb

Horizontal and/or vertical Wind Shear on take off result in sudden loss of airspeed and/or reduction in climb rate, with potentially disastrous consequences. It is vital that such conditions should be quickly recognised if they are encountered, and that pilot response should be immediate and correct.

Before Departure

Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Briefing Note 5.4 recommends that whenever wind shear conditions are forecast or reported for take off, pilots "should include in their departure briefing the following wind shear awareness items:

  • Assessment of the conditions for a safe takeoff based on:
    • Most recent weather reports and forecasts;
    • Visual observations; and,
    • Crew experience with the airport environment and the prevailing weather conditions; and,
  • Consideration to delaying the takeoff until conditions improve."

"If wind shear conditions are expected," the Briefing Note continues, "the crew should:

  • Select the most favorable runway, considering the location of the likely wind shear/downburst condition;
  • Select the minimum flaps configuration compatible with takeoff requirements, to maximize climb-gradient capability;
  • Use the weather radar (or the predictive wind shear system, if available) before beginning the takeoff to ensure that the flight path is clear of hazards;
  • Select maximum takeoff thrust;
  • After selecting the takeoff/go-around (TOGA) mode, select the flight-path-vector display for the monitoring pilot (PM/PNF), as available, to obtain a visual reference of the climb flight path angle; and,
  • Closely monitor the airspeed and airspeed trend during the takeoff roll to detect any evidence of impending wind shear."

Wind Shear Recovery

The Briefing Note advises that "If wind shear is encountered during the takeoff roll or during initial climb, the following actions should be taken without delay:

  • Before V1:
    • The takeoff should be rejected if unacceptable airspeed variations occur (not exceeding the target V1) and if there is sufficient runway remaining to stop the airplane;
  • After V1:
    • Disconnect the autothrottles (A/THR), if available, and maintain or set the throttle levers to maximum takeoff thrust;
    • Rotate normally at Vr; and,
    • Follow the FD pitch command if the FD provides wind shear recovery guidance, or set the required pitch attitude (as recommended in the aircraft operating manual (AOM)/quick reference handbook (QRH));
  • During initial climb:
    • Disconnect the A/THR, if available, and maintain or set the throttle levers to maximum takeoff thrust;
    • If the autopilot (AP) is engaged and if the FD provides wind shear recovery guidance, keep the AP engaged; or,
      • Follow the FD pitch command, if the FD provides wind shear recovery guidance; or,
      • Set the required pitch attitude (as recommended in the AOM/QRH);
    • Level the wings to maximize the climb gradient, unless a turn is required for obstacle clearance;
    • Closely monitor the airspeed, airspeed trend and flight-path angle (as available);
    • Allow airspeed to decrease to stick shaker onset (intermittent stick shaker activation) while monitoring the airspeed trend;
    • Do not change the flaps or landing-gear configurations until out of the wind shear condition; and,
    • When out of the wind shear condition, increase airspeed when a positive climb is confirmed, retract the landing gear, flaps and slats, then establish a normal climb profile."

Wind Shear on the Approach and Landing

Horizontal and/or vertical wind shear during the approach can result in sudden loss of airspeed and apparent loss of power, with potentially disastrous consequences. A sudden change of wind component or drift prior to landing can make the approach unstable at a point where go-around is not possible or would be extremely hazardous. It is vital that such conditions should be quickly recognised if they are encountered, and that pilot response should be immediate and correct.

Descent Briefing

Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Approach-and-landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Briefing Note 5.4 recommends that whenever wind shear conditions are forecast or reported for approach and landing, the approach briefing should include the following:

  • "Based on the automatic terminal information service (ATIS) broadcast, review and discuss the following items:
    • Runway in use (type of approach)
    • Expected arrival route (standard terminal arrival (STAR) or radar vectors)
    • Prevailing weather and,
    • Reports of potential low-level wind shear (LLWAS warnings, TDWR data) and,
  • "Discuss the intended use of automation for vertical navigation and lateral navigation as a function of the suspected or forecasted wind shear conditions."

The briefing note contains some valuable recommendations for preparation and flight procedures. The section concerning Recovery during Approach and Landing is reproduced below.

Recovery During Approach and Landing

"If wind shear is encountered during the approach or landing, the following recovery actions should be taken without delay:

  • Select the takeoff/go-around (TOGA) mode and set and maintain maximum go-around thrust
  • Follow the Flight Director pitch command (if the FD provides wind shear recovery guidance) or set the pitch-attitude target recommended in the AOM/QRH
  • If the AP is engaged and if the FD provides wind shear recovery guidance, keep the AP engaged; otherwise, disconnect the AP and set and maintain the recommended pitch attitude
  • Do not change the flap configuration or landing-gear configuration until out of the wind shear
  • Level the wings to maximize climb gradient, unless a turn is required for obstacle clearance
  • Allow airspeed to decrease to stick-shaker onset (intermittent stick-shaker activation) while monitoring airspeed trend
  • Closely monitor airspeed, airspeed trend and flight path angle (if flight-path vector is available and displayed for the PNF) and,
  • When out of the wind shear, retract the landing gear, flaps and slats, then increase the airspeed when a positive climb is confirmed and establish a normal climb profile.

Reporting Procedure

If significant wind shear is encountered during the takeoff and initial climb, or on approach and landing, it should be reported to air traffic control immediately. If the effects on aircraft control are exceptional and/or beyond the effects typically encountered, then an appropriate air safety report should be raised after flight completion.

Related Articles

Accident and Incident Reports

Events on the SKYbrary which involve turbulence and wind shear, include:

  • A319, vicinity Wuxi China, 2010 (On 14 September 2010, the crew of a Sichuan Airlines Airbus A319 continued an ILS approach into Wuxi despite awareness of adverse convective weather conditions at the airport. Their inattention to automation management then led to a low energy warning and the inappropriate response to this led to the activation of flight envelope protection quickly followed by a stall warning. Inappropriate response to this was followed by loss of control and a full stall and high rate of descent from which recovery was finally achieved less than 900 feet agl.)
  • A320, Bilbao Spain, 2001 (On 7th February 2001, an Iberia A320 was about to make a night touch down at Bilbao in light winds when it experienced unexpected windshear. The attempt to counter the effect of this by initiation of a go around failed because the automatic activation of AOA protection in accordance with design criteria which opposed the crew pitch input. The aircraft then hit the runway so hard that a go around was no longer possible. Severe airframe structural damage and evacuation injuries to some of the occupants followed. A mandatory modification to the software involved was subsequently introduced.)
  • A321, Hakodate Japan, 2002 (On 21 January 2002, an Airbus A321-100 being operated by All Nippon Airways on a scheduled passenger flight from Nagoya to Hakodate encountered sudden negative windshear just prior to planned touchdown and the pitch up which followed resulted in the aft fuselage being damaged prior to the initiation of a climb away to position for a further approach which led to a normal landing. Three of the cabin crew sustained minor injuries but the remaining 90 occupants were uninjured.)
  • A321, Manchester UK, 2011 (2) (On 23 December 2011, an Austrian Airlines Airbus A321 sustained a tail strike at Manchester as the main landing gear contacted the runway during a night go around initiated at a very low height after handling difficulties in the prevailing wind shear. The remainder of the go around and subsequent approach in similar conditions was uneventful and the earlier tail strike was considered to have been the inevitable consequence of initiating a go around so close to the ground after first reducing thrust to idle. Damage to the aircraft rendered it unfit for further flight until repaired but was relatively minor.)
  • A333, Montréal QC Canada, 2014 (On 7 October 2014, an Airbus A330-300 failed to maintain the runway centreline as it touched down at Montréal in suddenly reduced forward visibility and part of the left main gear departed the runway edge, paralleling it briefly before returning to it and regaining the centreline as the landing roll was completed. The Investigation attributed the excursion to a delay in corrective action when a sudden change in wind velocity occurred at the same time as degraded visual reference. It was found that the runway should not have been in use in such poor visibility without serviceable lighting.)
  • AS32, en-route, North Sea UK, 2002 (On 28th February 2002, an Aerospatiale AS332L Super Puma helicopter en route approximately 70 nm northeast of Scatsa, Shetland Islands was in the vicinity of a storm cell when a waterspout was observed about a mile abeam. Soon afterwards, violent pitch, roll and yaw with significant negative and positive ‘g’ occurred. Recovery to normal flight was achieved after 15 seconds and after a control check, the flight was completed. After flight, all five tail rotor blades and tail pylon damage were discovered. It was established that this serious damage was the result of contact between the blades and the pylon.)
  • AS50, en-route, Hawaii USA, 2005 (On 23 September 2005, an AS350 helicopter, operated by Heli USA Airways, crashed into the sea off Hawaii following loss of control associated with flight into adverse weather conditions.)
  • AT75, vicinity Cork Ireland, 2014 (On 2 January 2014, the crew of an ATR 72-212A lost forward visibility due to the accumulation of a thick layer of salt deposits on the windshield whilst the aircraft was being radar positioned to an approach at Cork on a track which took it close to and at times over the sea in the presence of strong onshore winds. The Investigation concluded that the prevailing strong winds over and near to the sea in relatively dry air with little visible moisture present had been conducive to high concentrations of salt particles at low levels.)
  • B732, vicinity Abuja Nigeria, 2006 (On 29 October 2006, an ADC Airlines’ Boeing 737-200 encountered wind shear almost immediately taking off from Abuja into adverse weather associated with a very rapidly developing convective storm. Unseen from the apron or ATC TWR it stalled, crashed and burned after just over one minute airborne killing 96 of the 105 occupants. The Investigation concluded that loss of control during the wind shear encounter was not inevitable but was a consequence of inappropriate crew response. Concerns about the quality of crew training and competency validation were also raised.)
  • B732, vicinity Islamabad Pakistan, 2012 (On 20 April 2012, the crew of a Boeing 737-200 encountered negative wind shear during an ILS final approach at night in lMC and failed to respond with the appropriate recovery actions. The aircraft impacted the ground approximately 4 nm from the threshold of the intended landing runway. The Investigation attributed the accident to the decision to continue to destination in the presence of adverse convective weather and generally ineffective flight deck management and noted that neither pilot had received training specific to the semi-automated variant of the 200 series 737 being flown and had no comparable prior experience.)
  • B734, Brisbane Australia, 2001 (On 18th January 2001, a Qantas Boeing 737-400 encountered a Microburst while conducting a go-around at Brisbane Australia.)
  • B735, Denver USA, 2008 (Runway Side Excursion During Attempted Take-off in Strong and Gusty Crosswind Conditions.)

Airports where Low Level Turbulence applies

The following map shows the aerodromes where low level turbulence occurs across the world which are listed on SKYbrary:

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Further Reading

Flight Safety Foundation

The Flight Safety Foundation ALAR Toolkit provides useful training information and guides to best practice. Copies of the FSF ALAR Toolkit may be ordered from the Flight Safety Foundation ALAR website UK CAA


  • "Lessons Learned from Transport Airplane Accidents": Windshear