Winter is a popular time to travel. Everyone wants to visit to family, friends, go skiing all in different areas of the country in a short holiday season. Although winter weather conditions can create higher risk challenges, many pilots can’t help but to continue experiencing the wonders of aviation during the winter months.
If you plan on flying on your own this winter, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience, as long as you take a few extra precautions and spend a little more time planning.
Tips for Safe Winter Flying
- Proper preflight planning is crucial – imagine all the possible worst-case scenarios before you head out onto the runway. Remember that icing levels are lower this time of year.
- Check all pilot reports before flying for icing conditions, airport closures, cold fronts, cloud locations and other issues that could affect your flight.
- Air traffic during the holidays is often much worse than any other time of the year. Take this into consideration and allow for extra time to get to your destination. Expect runway delays, and runway closures due to snow and ice.
- If you are taking any passengers, make sure to brief them of potential scenarios and the potential for delays due to weather, airport closures and heightened air traffic.
- Remember that temperatures in the atmosphere could dip as low as -30 degrees, and that turbulence is often much worse in the mountain areas that are popular winter destinations.
- Get proper night training before flying with passengers in the wintertime, because the sun sets earlier and you may be forced to fly at night. In order to get night-current with your training, you must complete a minimum of three takeoffs and landings to a full stop at night within the past 90 days.
Preflight Checklist for Small Airplane Pilots
Before taking flight in the winter, the last precaution you must take is going through this additional pre-flight checklist for cold weather conditions:
- Confirm that the heat works and that the heater is not leaking.
- Check that all de-icing equipment is working properly.
- Prepare instruments for holding.
- Pre-check the safety kit and update the kit if anything is missing. Make sure you have a good knife, fire starters, a signal mirror and medical supplies in case of an emergency.
Understand Your Icing Charts
In order to avoid plane stalling, rolling, pitching or, in the worst-case scenario, total plane failure, it is necessary to study your icing charts before you fly if there’s any remote possibility of cold weather conditions during the course of your flight. There are several different options to help you understand what the potential for icing is. According to aviationweather.gov, there are four types of icing charts:
- Freezing Level Graphs – These graphs show altitudes where the air temperature is freezing, and include charts and area forecasts showing freezing and moisture levels to help predict the potential for future icing.
- Icing SIGMET Charts – A forecast tool that shows severe icing; abbreviation of Significant Meteorological Information.
- Pilot’s Reports of Icing – This is a precise and constantly updated resource for pilots, providing accurate information about what’s happening right now in the sky. Pilots let fellow pilots know where they were flying, what altitude they were flying at, whether they went through any ice and, if so, how intense it was.
- Supplementary Icing Information – The CIP and FIP are additional resources, but they’re only recommended for professional meteorologists.