How airlines and pilots prepare to fly in extreme weather
- Airplanes often fly in extreme weather, but passengers may not realize how much preparation goes into each flight.
- Some major airlines have meteorology centres with full-time employees who work to predict the weather.
- The FAA also helps pilots and airports determine if conditions are safe.
- Airlines will cancel flights if the weather makes for truly dangerous flight conditions.
- In most major airlines, pilots have thousands of hours of flying experience and training for flying in a variety of weather conditions, including snow and thunderstorms.
- For more stories go to www.businessinsider.co.za.
When your flight is scheduled to hit the air during snowstorms, hurricanes, or even torrential downpour, you might wonder if your airline and the plane's pilots are prepared.
Fortunately, on most commercial flights, lots of people are responsible for tracking and planning for weather conditions, whether it means mapping out alternative routes or making the decision to delay a flight.
Here's how airlines and pilots prepare for extreme weather.
Everyone from the FAA to the pilots themselves monitors the weather before your flight .
From a pilot's perspective, flying ahead of a storm requires knowledge of weather before and after departure, what kind of turbulence to expect, and how and when to deviate from storms. Pilots are trained to instinctively handle inclement weather - with or without visibility - but by no means are they flying alone.
Major airlines also prepare their pilots for extreme weather. INSIDER spoke to a representative from Delta's Operations and Customer Center who said days before your flight is scheduled to depart, that teams are already tracking major weather events like hurricanes and winter storms. For instance, from their meteorology center in Atlanta, 25 full-time forecasters run weather models to predict which flights will be impacted by weather events, putting out short-term and long-term forecasts for flights.
Pilots and the FAA are also monitoring the weather during your flight, too
Weather can change in a moment, so even the best-laid plans can go awry.
The FAA and airlines know this, however, so they're prepared. Since 1993, the FAA has required commercial aircraft to fly with a device called the "Airborne Wind Shear Detection and Alert System" that uses radar information to warn pilots about potentially dangerous conditions, such as what one expert called "microburst" weather to the Washington Post, or "downburst winds."
Not only do planes have this equipment, but all major airports are watching their own Doppler radar. Plus, pilots are trained to look out for weather conditions during your flight and have "escape options" to find better weather in the nearby area if necessary, according to the FAA.
There is a lot of pre-flight planning that goes beyond weather
Ground crews are extremely important for a safe flight, too.
The scariest conditions to fly in are snow and slush because they both affect take-off and landing and can impact the way a plane flies.
In his book, " Cockpit Confidential," airline pilot and blogger Patrick Smith explained that even a quarter-inch-thick layer of ice on a plane can disrupt "the flow of air over and around a wing's carefully sculpted contours, destroying lift."
Because of that, airplanes are very carefully cleaned ahead of a flight since even the tiniest amount of ice can impact the effectiveness of a wing, Seth Laskin, a former aircraft deicer at Philadelphia International Airport, told Travel + Leisure.
At most major airlines, pilots have thousands of hours of flying experience and training for flying in various weather conditions
For pilots, major airlines hold the keys to some of the most sought after jobs in the aviation industry. Chances are, if you're flying on a well-known airline, you're under the command of a pilot and co-pilot with thousands of hours of experience in the air. Some airline pilots are also former military pilots and all undergo rigorous training while working for the airline.
And the training typically doesn't stop when the pilots graduate their training. On Delta, for instance, its pilots are required to train again every nine months.
If conditions are bad, your flight will probably be delayed or canceled - and that's in your best interest
All of this information adds up to a simple truth: chances are, days before you ever saw the first snowflake fall, aviation experts were already mapping alternative routes for your upcoming flight.
"Everything boils down to safety," Eric Auxier, a Phoenix-based commercial airline pilot and blogger, told The Points Guy in 2018. "Planning for winter weather starts well ahead of time. If things are less than ideal, we'll likely postpone or cancel flights. If the parameters look reasonable, we give it our best shot."
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