Snow is a stunning sight, but it becomes troublesome when you have a flight to catch. Just think about preparing to board a plane for your dream vacation only to hear the disappointing announcement: your flight is canceled because of snow.
How frustrating! You might wonder why a little snow can ruin your travel plans. In reality, what truly counts isn’t the quantity of snow, but rather the condition of the runway that decides if a flight can safely take off or land.
Today, we’ll clarify how snow can influence runway safety and the amount of snow that can lead to flight delays or cancellations.
Related Read: How Many Inches of Snow Will Cancel a Flight? | ANSWERED
How Many Inches of Snow Will Cancel a Flight?
Most airlines will cancel flights if there’s over 10 inches of snow on the ground. However, this can vary between airlines. A few airlines such as Emirates opt for flight cancellations even when there’s a minimal snowfall (occasionally less than 6 inches).
It’s crucial to understand that different airports have their own rules for canceling flights due to snow. Airlines also consider whether it’s safe to move planes on snowy runways. If safety conditions permit, the flight will continue; otherwise, it may be subject to cancellation.
Similarly, an airport in an area that frequently experiences snow is likely to be better prepared for winter weather than an airport in a region where snow is rare. Additionally, some airports have better equipment for de-icing and more experienced staff, which can help them manage adverse weather conditions effectively.
Ultimately, the airline holds the authority to determine if a flight should be canceled due to snowy conditions. They consider various factors, including safety concerns and the potential for delays or more cancellations down the line.
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Snow’s Impact on Flight Delay/Cancellations
Numerous factors associated with snowfall have the potential to cause flight delays or cancellations. Let’s understand some of the key factors that play a significant role in these disruptions.
Runway closure due to excessive snow accumulation is a common safety measure taken at airports during heavy snowfall or blizzard conditions. When snow accumulates beyond a certain point, it can pose significant safety risks for aircraft operations.
Excessive snow accumulation can result in dangerous conditions on the runways. When the snow becomes too deep, it can make it difficult for aircraft to taxi, take off, or land safely.
Thick snow and ice on the runway can affect an aircraft’s performance. The accumulation of snow can reduce lift during takeoff and impact braking effectiveness upon landing, increasing the risk of overrun or accidents.
Air traffic controllers and airline operators are informed of the runway closure. Notices to airmen (NOTAMs) are issued, indicating which runways are closed and the expected duration of the closure.
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Icy aircraft components
Apart from waiting for runways to clear, there are times when ice forms on the plane itself. This can make takeoff dangerous. When ice forms on the aircraft during freezing weather, authorities have to temporarily suspend flight operations.
To address this issue, planes must undergo the deicing process. This procedure involves the removal of ice from their wings, landing gear, and other crucial components that impact flight. It involves the use of de-icing fluids, which are specifically designed to melt existing ice and snow while preventing further accumulation. These fluids are applied to the aircraft’s surfaces to ensure that it remains ice-free during its time on the ground and throughout the flight.
Further, airlines are cautious to prevent situations where a plane gets stuck on the runway or is unable to take off or reach its designated parking spot.
Another concern arises when visibility decreases. Strong winds can whip up ground-level snow, which creates a haze that impairs the pilot’s vision. When visibility is poor, the risks of flying increase.
Navigating on the ground and in the sky becomes more challenging. At airports, air traffic controllers and aircraft marshals typically guide pilots for precise landings. However, when snow reduces visibility, this task becomes difficult for everyone.
In the worst-case scenario, the pilot might mistakenly land on the wrong runway or object, thinking they were on the correct path. These conditions can lead to accidents.
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Powerful Winds in Snowy Conditions
Regardless of ongoing snowfall, high winds have the potential to disrupt flights. The intensity of wind gusts can be unpredictable, which amplifies the hazards of travel. During flight, strong winds can lead to turbulence that can pose risks to both passengers and pilots as they work to maintain the plane’s course.
A similar challenge arises during landing, where unpredictable winds can push the aircraft off its intended runway path. Nevertheless, aviation professionals prioritize passenger safety and are well-versed in handling such situations. Despite their expertise, turbulence can still cause anxiety and remains an unacceptable risk.
Slippery Airport Surfaces
We’ve previously mentioned that the presence of snow on the ground isn’t the primary reason for flight cancellations. It’s actually the impact of snow on airport runways that matters.
In extremely cold weather conditions, the runway surface can become slippery, which makes it challenging for an aircraft’s landing gear to maintain grip. It’s essential to remember that rubber tires aren’t designed for icy surfaces.
Besides, when snow melts and forms slush or water on the runway, there is a risk of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when a layer of water forms between the aircraft’s tires and the runway surface, reducing traction and control. For example, an Airbus A380 landing on an icy runway would struggle to come to a stop, making it challenging for the pilot to keep the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline.
To address these issues, airlines provide training to their staff on using the appropriate equipment to clear snow and prevent ice buildup on the pavement. This is particularly crucial during regular snowfalls, as opposed to blizzards or severe storms.
Is It Possible for Airplanes to Operate in Snowy Conditions?
In short, YES. Pilots are highly skilled in aviation and airplanes are engineered to function effectively at high altitudes even in cold or snowy environments. However, the extent to which snow might impact flight operations can lead to flight cancellations on occasion.
According to the Federal Code of Regulations, sub-section § 139.313 Snow and ice control states the following:
The snow and ice control plan required by this section must include, at a minimum, instructions and procedures for—
- Prompt removal or control, as completely as practical, of snow, ice, and slush on each movement area;
- Positioning snow off the movement area surfaces so all air carrier aircraft propellers, engine pods, rotors, and wing tips will clear any snowdrift and snowbank as the aircraft’s landing gear traverses any portion of the movement area;
- Selection and application of authorized materials for snow and ice control to ensure that they adhere to snow and ice sufficiently to minimize engine ingestion;
- Timely commencement of snow and ice control operations; and
- Prompt notification, in accordance with § 139.339, of all air carriers using the airport when any portion of the movement area normally available to them is less than satisfactorily cleared for safe operation by their aircraft.
Weather can be unpredictable and the severity of snowfall during storms is often uncertain because weather forecasts may not be entirely accurate. However, complete flight cancellations due to adverse weather conditions are relatively rare—delays are a more common outcome.
It is important to keep in mind that in case of severe snow, flights can be canceled.
Therefore, it’s advisable to arrive for your scheduled flight as planned because there’s a good chance you may still catch a later flight on the same day.
What Is the Future of Air Travel and Snow?
As climate change continues, it is anticipated that the patterns of snowfall will also undergo alterations. This could bring about fresh difficulties for airlines and airports. For instance, certain airports might have to deal with more frequent and more severe snowstorms, while others may witness a reduction in snow accumulation.
To get ready for these altering circumstances, airports and airlines have been making investments in better equipment, advanced technology, and comprehensive training programs.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have the potential to help airlines and airports better manage snowy conditions. These advanced technologies can predict how snowfall will occur and understand its impact on airport operations. This knowledge allows both airlines and airports to make proactive adjustments to their plans. Besides, aircraft manufacturers are continually working on designs that are better suited for winter operations. This includes improvements in anti-icing systems and materials that reduce the buildup of ice and snow on the aircraft’s surfaces.
- Another avenue of innovation in snow removal technology revolves around researching new de-icing substances that are not only environmentally friendly but also highly efficient, replacing conventional glycol-based solutions. Additional innovations include developing materials for runway surfaces that minimize the build-up of ice. Infrared technology is also being explored to melt ice and snow on aircraft surfaces more efficiently. Infrared heaters can be installed at key locations on an aircraft, such as wings and engine inlets, to maintain ice-free surfaces.
The impact of snow on air travel is significant and multifaceted. While the amount of snow alone does not dictate flight cancellations, its influence on runway conditions, visibility, and aircraft performance is paramount. Safety remains the top priority for airlines and airports, and decisions to delay or cancel flights are made with passengers and crew’s well-being in mind.
Generally, 10 inches of snow can cancel a flight but in certain cases, 6 inches of snow can also lead to a flight cancellation. Airlines consider various factors, including runway conditions, visibility, weather forecasts, aircraft de-icing capabilities, and the safety of passengers and crew. To prevent ice buildup, airports use de-icing fluids and equipment, which are applied to an aircraft’s surfaces. These fluids melt existing ice and create a protective layer to prevent further accumulation. Airlines are equipped to operate in snowy conditions, but delays or cancellations can occur if snowfall is severe or if other factors like poor visibility or icy runways pose safety risks.
How Many Inches of Snow Will Cancel a Flights? - FAQs
Generally, 10 inches of snow can cancel a flight but in certain cases, 6 inches of snow can also lead to a flight cancellation.
Airlines consider various factors, including runway conditions, visibility, weather forecasts, aircraft de-icing capabilities, and the safety of passengers and crew.
To prevent ice buildup, airports use de-icing fluids and equipment, which are applied to an aircraft’s surfaces. These fluids melt existing ice and create a protective layer to prevent further accumulation.
Airlines are equipped to operate in snowy conditions, but delays or cancellations can occur if snowfall is severe or if other factors like poor visibility or icy runways pose safety risks.