Many people are worried about flying, and even more worried about flying in the snow.
While there are some fantastic winter destinations, “can planes fly in the snow” is a question that often comes up.
Though it is true that snow can cause delays and issues, it’s a misconception that they can’t fly in snow.
In this article, we’ll look at the issues of flying in snow and why it causes no real problem for planes.
Flying in the Snow
Cruising altitudes for commercial airplanes is usually around 10km and for private jets, it’s around 12km. At this altitude, temperatures can go as low -60C. Since planes are designed to fly in this temperature, cold weather on the ground does not, by itself, inhibit flight.
However, cold weather can impact activities on the ground. While less of an issue for take-off, an icy or wet ground can extremely inhibit a plane’s ability for landing safely. On top of this, heavy snow can decrease visibility which can make navigating difficult.
The biggest issue comes with equipment icing. This is when ice builds up on the components of the airplane. This can severely impact the aerodynamics of the aircraft which can cause all kinds of issues when it comes to flying. However, this is where de-icing comes into play. Furthermore, all pilots who are flying in these climates are able to handle ice build-up that could occur during flight.
Flying in the winter is something that we all do regularly. Just because there is winter weather outside, it doesn’t mean that planes will suddenly stop flying. As we’ve discussed above, snow, ice, and bad weather do not hinder a flight. It remains safe to fly as long as precautious and pilot training are both up to date.
How High is Snowfall?
Snow typically forms around 4-5km below the surface. Therefore at cruising altitude, you’ll be well above any snow formations and this won’t affect your flight.
Importance of De-Icing
When it comes to icy weather conditions the most important thing to watch out for is de-icing. De-icing is the spraying of a special liquid over the surface of the airplane. This liquid ensures that no ice forms and existing ice is washed away. Unfortunately, this is only short term so if there are any delays due to unforeseen circumstances then your plane may require a second round of de-icing.
As a passenger, most of your cold-weather annoyances will come from delays due to de-icing.
Will my flight be canceled if it snows?
This depends on a lot of factors, but in most cases, you’ll only have a delay. Firstly, small airplanes are pretty much grounded during snow as they do not have the required de-icing capabilities. Secondly, it depends on the airport and their snow management. Interestingly London Heathrow has had plenty of issues with snow despite its large size.
Is it dangerous to fly in the winter?
No, not at all. Most countries and airports don’t experience heavy weather even during winter. For those locations that are more problematic during winter, all of the pilots are trained for this. Therefore unless you’re flying to some really dangerous location such as the north pole, your flight won’t be any more dangerous than on average (which is not dangerous at all).
Can planes fly in freezing weather?
Yes, at a flying altitude planes experience temperatures of -40C to -57C. Therefore freezing weather on the ground usually doesn’t affect airplanes.
Can planes fly in the rain?
Yes, planes can fly in the rain. Heavy rain does affect visibility so pilots tend to avoid storms, however, there is very little concern when flying in the rain.
In conclusion, planes can and do fly in the snow! It does cause some challenges, but nothing that a well-trained pilot and ground crew cannot handle.