20 January 2023Blog
Private aviation, ice & snow, wind, fog, thunderstorms, heat
Bad weather can cause delays and cancelations not just when flying commercially, but also when flying private. But how do certain weather conditions impact flight operations?
Constant monitoring of the day-to-day weather situation forms a key part of handling any flight – from the everyday consideration of wind strength and direction, to the more unusual challenges of heavy fog or ice and snow. Our charter team works closely with the aircraft operators when organising your trip, adjusting the route and calculating the timings. Let’s look into some of the most common conditions of the season:
The main challenges for a private aircraft in extreme cold conditions come on the ground. Airplanes are remarkably well-designed to cope with freezing temperatures and snowfall once in the air. At 30,000 feet temperatures regularly reach as low as -80C, but when it is snowing or below 0 degrees at departure, the main focus is on the condition of the airport's runway and taxiway. It can then be legally required to carry-out de-icing procedures before take-off.
Cielo Aviation explains how de-icing works, why it is vital for a safe flight and some tips to reduce or even avoid de-icing fees. Read more:
Wind is one of the most common weather conditions that impacts a flight, both on the ground as well as in the air.
With a headwind, your plane is flying against the wind which is slowing it down: this means that at the same airspeed, you have a lower groundspeed. A tailwind, on the other hand, can increase ground speed and shorten your flight time, as the aircraft is being pushed through the air; in this case, the same route will take less time with tailwind than with headwind, resulting in a flight time that could be up to 20 percent shorter. While this would mean a time difference of 10 to 15 minutes on a 1-hour flight, the difference is more clearly noticeable on trans-Atlantic flights due to the much higher Westerly winds in the upper earth atmosphere (jet streams), resulting in time differences of up to multiple hours.
Heavy winds also impact take-off and landing performance. While all aircraft are designed to withstand windy conditions, private jets are typically more subject to a bumpy approach because of their smaller size and lower weight.
We speak of crosswinds when the wind direction is not aligned with the runway, which can be even more challenging. While aircraft usually take off and land into the wind, not all airports have a runway that is aligned perfectly with the specific wind direction at that moment. This can be challenging during take-off and landings, as the plane has to fight harder to stay on route. But be assured, pilots are highly trained to deal with weather conditions, and are able to take off and land safely even in strong crosswinds.
Just like with icy and snowy conditions, flights may be delayed or cancelled because of poor visibility due to fog. Although most commercial aircraft and long-range private jets are equipped with auto-land autopilots (that can land the aircraft in zero visibility), it is on the ground and during take-off where most of the air traffic delays occur.
When the visibility at an airport drops below 1,500m (described as RVR – Runway Visual Range) then Low Visibility Procedures (LVPs) have to be enforced. During LVPs, Air Traffic control will reduce the number of aircraft taxing and taking off to prevent possible incidents.
Fog is often sporadic and variable where some airports may be affected while others remain clear. The advantage of a private jet flight is that it allows for last minute changes and can adjust the flight plan during foggy weather, finding clear airports and re-routing the flight accordingly – not an option on commercial flights.
Thunderstorms in aviation can cause all sorts of problems, from turbulence and wind shear, to lightning strikes. Thunderstorm clouds or Cumulonimbus, known as CBs in pilot weather reports, mostly occur during hot and wet weather, followed by periods of very high temperatures.
Turbulence is caused by the updrafts and downdrafts within a thunderstorm, and can result in a bumpy flight. Wind shear, on the other hand, is caused by the difference in wind speed and direction at different altitudes within a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes are also a major concern during thunderstorms, and while aircraft are designed to withstand a lightning strike, no pilot wants to fly into one.
In general, private jets are well-equipped to deal with CBs. They are able to climb faster and over a shorter distance than commercial airlines, which means they can get above the turbulence and out of the storm more quickly. In addition, private jets typically have more flexibility during approach, as the smaller aircraft can be manoeuvred around bad weather more easily. They can also descend later and faster to keep out of the bad weather for most of your journey.
However, no pilot of any aircraft will fly into a CB, and with safety always the number one priority, your flight may be delayed if CBs are located above or around your departure airport. Refuelling of an aircraft is also prohibited with CBs in the vicinity, due to the risk of lightening strikes.
Airplanes can fly perfectly safely in hot weather conditions, although a high air temperature does change the performance of the aircraft.
Hot air is thinner than cooler air, which affects the aerodynamics and engine performance of an airplane. In hot weather, aircraft engines are less efficient due to the thinner air, which increases the required runway length for take-off. Thin air also has a negative effect on the amount of lift an airplane can generate, meaning that a private jet has to work harder to get airborne in hot weather. Pilots can opt to use a higher engine thrust setting when it’s particularly hot.
But however hot or cold it may be outside, the cabin temperature of a private jet will always be set to the passengers’ preference.
Usually, weather conditions that impact visibility have a greater influence on private flights than on commercial flights; private jets commonly fly in and out of smaller or minor airports that are more subject to weather-related disruptions, as they are less equipped with the navigational aids that larger airports have.
Particularly small planes or entry level jets are more likely to be impacted by strong winds and turbulence so operators might not allow to take off or land in certain weather conditions even tough commercial flights may still operate.
However, private aviation counts on being flexible and does allow for last-minute changes like re-routing or changing airports, which is usually not an option for airlines.
But with safety always being the top priority for both commercial and private operators, the ultimate decision to fly in bad weather comes down to the pilots after evaluating all possible options.
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