How does weather affect my private jet flight?

As a British-founded company, it might seem natural that we are obsessed with the weather here at PrivateFly. And with a heatwave gripping the UK and Europe over the last few weeks, it’s definitely even more of a talking point than usual.

Aircraft engine sunset

But this obsession is actually less about our roots (and in fact over half of our team are international, including our US team in Fort Lauderdale), and more to do with the nature of our business.

Whether it’s scorching sunshine or freezing fog, consideration and constant monitoring of the day-to-day weather situation forms a key part of handling any private jet charter flight. Our Flight Team works closely with the aircraft operators and crew when planning an itinerary, choosing the route and calculating the timings using a number of weather planning tools and systems.

And we take a constant view of the weather situation for all our flights, reacting to any changes, to ensure safety and optimising the flight time.

Different weather conditions impact your flight in different ways – from the everyday consideration of wind strength and direction, to the more unusual challenges of extreme heat, heavy fog or ice and snow. Here’s how.

Sun

Aircraft can operate perfectly safely in hot and sunny weather, in very high temperatures (up to 53C, depending on the aircraft type). But a high air temperature does change the performance of the aircraft.

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Hot air is thinner than cooler air. And this affects the output of the aircraft’s engines as well as aerodynamic capabilities, increasing the required runway distance and reducing climb performance and the maximum payload. Pilots can opt to use a higher engine thrust setting when it’s particularly hot.

So while it’s rarely hot enough for flights to be grounded, it’s something that needs to be factored into the flight plan.

Of course, however hot (or cold) it may be outside, the cabin temperature of a private jet is always set to the passengers’ preference.

Ice & snow

The main challenges for a private jet flight in very cold weather come on the ground. Aircraft are exceptionally well-designed to cope with freezing temperatures and snowfall once in the air. At 30,000 feet temperatures regularly reach as low as -80C, or even -100C without any problems.

Snow jet take off

Image © Alex Peake

So when it comes to factoring in ice or snow, the major focus is the condition of the runway and taxiway at the airport. And on de-icing the aircraft prior to the flight.

De-icing is a legal and safety requirement, for all private jet flights. And de-icing costs can add to the cost of a charter flight – so this is something we always discuss with clients before a flight during colder weather. Find out more about de-icing a private jet.

Private jets are less impacted than airline flights by heavy snowfall as they can use smaller airports, where snow clearing and de-icing can often take place quicker that at major hubs. There is a much smaller area of taxiway and fewer aircraft to keep clear (plus many private jets are kept out of the cold in hangars which reduces de-icing requirements).

And if all flights are grounded due to extreme snow, the agility of private charter means flights can return to normal immediately after restrictions are lifted. Whereas airline schedules often take days to recover.

Wind

Wind direction and speed can make a flight time quite different, for exactly the same journey. A tail wind – which pushes the aircraft forward through the air – will increase the aircraft’s ground speed and shorten the journey.

A head wind – where the aircraft is flying against the wind direction – obviously does the opposite, slowing the aircraft’s ground speed and making the journey time longer.

jetstreamjan8-640x566These time differences are most dramatically seen on transatlantic flights, due to jet streams.  Jet streams are strong westerly winds that blow in a narrow band in the Earth’s upper atmosphere – at the altitudes used by most aircraft. Where these packets of fast moving air form a tube, they are called jet streams.

Aircraft are built and tested to withstand strong winds, but strong winds can be a factor in a turbulent journey. While turbulence can be a worry, it isn’t a safety concern. Read more: What is turbulence?

For take-off and landing, aircraft always move into the wind to reduce the ground speed.

Cross winds can also make take off and landing more challenging. So airports will impose limits if the wind is moving across the runway. Many airports have runways facing in different directions to mitigate against cross winds, allowing the pilots to use the runway that faces into the wind.

Rain

Rain doesn’t affect a flight that much in itself. Obviously if combined with very heavy winds, it can cause extra considerations and challenges to flight planning – even a change of route or a delay if the conditions are extreme. But generally speaking, aircraft are very well-equipped to deal with a bit of the wet stuff!

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Image: Gulfstream

Visibility is the key consideration of course. While at higher cruising speeds, the airflow clears water from the windshield quite effectively (instruments can ‘see’ ahead regardless of the weather) the pilot needs a clear visual view at slower speeds, when coming into land or taxiing on the ground.

So some private jets do have windscreen wipers. Others (particularly smaller aircraft) have a high pressure air system, which blows rain off the windshield. And some manufacturers, including Gulfstream, use hydrophobic windshield coatings, which repel water, in place of wipers.