Everyone complains about the weather, but no one takes action. The same might be stated for general aviation risk management. We spend a lot of time preaching to pilots about the mechanics of reading weather forecasts, evaluating if the aircraft is capable, and making honest appraisals of our own performance when deciding how and when to execute a flight—both this publication and the industry as a whole. However, after we’ve determined the need to minimize a risk, there’s often not enough room to detail the options available. Let us attempt to correct this.
Weather, aircraft suitability, and pilot capability are three major areas of risk for general aviation pilots. When a proposed flight causes issues in these three areas, we should think about what we may do to reduce the risk to acceptable levels while still completing the objective.
There’s no reason not to get a detailed pre-flight weather briefing of some form. On your journey to the airport, phone Flight Service. Before taking off, you can look up anything you want on your phone. Your flight tablet is likely capable of downloading a full briefing, including graphics, and organizing the results for you.
Here, “thorough” is putting in a lot of effort. A winter night trip near the Great Lakes will require far less than a severe-clear daylight flight in quest of a familiar $100 hamburger. So it’s no surprise that the level of depth in a preflight briefing should be determined by the briefing itself. However, information regarding airports, available approaches, and how weather may affect operations is always crucial.
Another classic weather adage goes something like this: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a little while and it will change.” The weather will improve if you wait long enough, according to this axiom, which seems tailor-made for aircraft.
Because you can’t control how the weather moves, the best thing to do is to let it. Stay on the ground if a cold front is approaching your departure airport and you don’t want to fly through it. You can launch into clearing conditions after it passes overhead.
Thunderstorms in the afternoon and fog in the early morning move and evolve, but not on our timetable. It’s tough—change your plans. Leave early in the morning or later in the day. The objective is to keep your schedule flexible in case of bad weather. Plan ahead of time so you can wait a few hours for better weather without jeopardizing your mission.
Some weather conditions are slow moving or cover a large area. Low ceilings and visibility are often connected with a warm front, as is the possibility of inflight icing in the winter. However, you have a plane. Fly around the problem regions with it.
Of course, if your departure or destination airports are snowed in or shrouded in ice-laden clouds, this strategy won’t work. However, such circumstances will soon alter. It’s sometimes worth it to get as close to the weather problem as possible and finish the journey the next morning.
Many weather issues are affected by altitude. Icing is normally not a concern above 12,000 feet, although it can be around 8000 feet if the topography permits it. If it doesn’t, find a route around the icing that avoids both the icing and the terrain problems. Wait if you can’t find one.
Changing altitude can alleviate a lot of weather and related problems. There’s probably an altitude that will keep you clear of a cloud deck you don’t want to fly through. If the topography permits, headwinds can typically be at least somewhat avoided by altering altitude. Similarly, turbulence caused by air traveling over the same terrain can be reduced by ascending and possibly accepting the headwind.
Yes, there are headwinds, and FBOs close at inconvenient times. Take care of it. One of the tasks you agreed to when you went for your private checkride was to make sure there was enough fuel. When you overfly the last fuel stop before your destination because it will take too long, that duty remains the same.
You have several options:
Flying across the country at low altitudes in a single makes little sense. Flying high in that same single gives you a lot more time to find a landing spot or fix an issue if an engine fails. There will be less traffic, and you will use less fuel in cruise mode once you arrive. There are other motivations to reach as high as you can if that isn’t enough.
One is for a more comfortable ride in clearer, cooler air. In the summer, climbing to the top of the hazy layer may take some time, but the rewards are well worth it, especially because it allows you to better see cumulonimbus clouds and plan your route around them. Haze and other decreases in visibility at lower altitudes can lead to a situation you don’t want or can’t handle. Climbing to take advantage of a tailwind’s benefits can also help you get beyond bad weather faster than if you were to struggle through it down low.
The only disadvantages of flying at a higher cruising altitude are the potential requirement for supplemental oxygen and the longer time it will take to descend quickly if necessary. That, and finding out how inefficient some cabin heating systems may be in the winter.
After a long day at the office, taking a four-hour flight isn’t the best idea. Especially when you just have eight hours and must leave at zero-dark-thirty to make a distant appointment on time. The truth is that we frequently fly when we are not at 100%. The goal is to make sure that the 10 to 20% of human performance we’re missing isn’t required on any given flight. That’s difficult to execute on practically any flight, except the most basic milk run.
Without the requisite abilities, tackling low IFR at your destination, busy terminal airspace, a complicated departure procedure, or an in-flight incident is a formula for disaster. While we’ve undoubtedly learned how to accomplish all of that at some point, it’s possible that we haven’t practiced some of the skills required to pull it off. Yet, practically every day, we are confronted with all of this and more.
Get training in these and other areas on a regular basis. Some could argue that one goal of such training is to pass your checkride on any particular day, which is a worthy goal. The true purpose is to ensure that the outcome of the flight is never in doubt.
This list’s final item isn’t as objective as the others. Instead, it will be a challenge for you to think beyond the box that most of our schooling forces us to think in. The previous nine suggestions include alternatives for planning, selecting aircraft and equipment, and preparing for the assignment.
Some planned flights are just not possible on the day or time selected, with the airplane you have and the conditions you are in. The intelligent pilot is the one who accepts reality and continues to fly. The same wisdom informs us that a little flexibility and compromise, as well as a little ingenuity (and plenty of fuel!) may go a long way , regardless of what the aviation gods have in store for us, , regardless of what the aviation gods have in store for us.