How Can Weather Affect My Flight?

When your commercial airline flight gets delayed or even canceled due to extreme weather conditions, plans can get thrown into disarray. Particularly for business passengers looking to attend meetings or speak at conferences, time is precious.

With all the recent heavy snowfall across the United States, many travelers have turned to private aviation to ensure their time is not wasted with delayed airline flights or congested terminals. At PrivateFly, we were able to help a group of passengers looking to reach Las Vegas from Boston – who had already been stuck in Boston Logan International for over 10 hours due to snow delays.

With temperatures in Boston hovering in the single-digits resulting in icy runways and constant snowfall, it was looking increasingly likely that this particular group would miss the majority of their conference in Las Vegas.

So while the runways at Boston Logan were not yet clear enough for the large airline aircraft to take off, the more nimble private jets were able to maneuver in the limited space – and they were able to reach Sin City with time to spare.

We’ve analyzed a few reasons why private jet flights can sometimes help passengers in a pinch when the weather doesn’t cooperate:

Ice & Snow

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 -112F, or even -148F 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, as well as 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 our 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 than 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 causes 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!

G650_runway

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.

Clouds

A less-talked-about weather phenomenon to also think about are thunderstorms and clouds; Cumulonimus clouds, commonly referred to by pilots as “CBs,” can be problematic as they are associated with heavy and sudden down pours of rain. These clouds are often caused by periods of very hot weather.

Private jets are usually better equipped to deal with CBs – they can climb faster and to get you above these clouds quicker than a commercial airliner, and can take more creative routes to avoid them in the air where commercial aircraft don’t have as much flexibility.

In addition, private jets are more agile and maneuverable, making landings in rough conditions much more flexible and safe.

Just be wary, often a private jet will delay takeoff if there are CBs directly overhead – it’s entirely for your safety, but it may cause unforeseen delays.

Fog

All aircraft, including private jets, are affected by fog and poor visibility, which can sometimes cause flight delays. Although many commercial aircraft are equipped with auto-land autopilots (that can land the aircraft in zero visibility), it is on the ground and during take off that most of the air traffic delays occur.

Foggy-runway

When the visibility at an airport drops below one mile (described by pilots and airports as RVR – Runway Visual Range) the airport enforces Low Visibility Procedures (LVPs). During LVPs, Air Traffic will reduce the number of aircraft taxing and taking off to prevent accidents and incidents occurring.

Fog is often patchy and variable – with some airports affected while others remain clear. So just as with snow, a private jet flight allows for last minute changes during foggy weather, finding gaps in the fog and re-routing the flight accordingly – not an option open to airlines.

Sun

Aircraft can operate perfectly safely in sunny weather, and in hot temperatures (up to 127F, depending on the aircraft type). But a high air temperature does change the performance of the aircraft.

clouds-429228_1280Hot 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 as always set to the passengers’ preference!

For advice on any aspect of a private jet flight, or personalized pricing, call our Flight Team (24 hours) at (866) 726-1222 or contact us online