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From Flight Operations and Safety


Jim Higgins, Director of Flight Operations & Safety WVFC


Winter Weather Operations


Winter is upon us and it presents great opportunities and challenges.  While this article is not likely to be relevant at KSQL or KPAO, it’s definitely worth considering should you venture very far North or East. 

Following a big cold front that has dumped tons of precipitation the skies are frequently very clear.  Visibility can be at it’s greatest when all of the “contaminants” are done clouding the air and are now messing up the ground instead.  Also cold temperatures give greatly improved aircraft performance.  Freezing temps “lower” sea level airports to almost 2000 feet below sea level from a density altitude perspective.  

However, it’s not all good news.  Aside from the well know lift-depriving characteristics of snow and frost, frozen water in whatever form is very difficult to deal with on the ground.  So it’s not wise to taxi through snow and slush because it really plays havoc with the landing gear.  Plan ahead even more than normally.  Snow can close an airport instantly and reopening frequently depends on groundbound people to be able to get to work.  Also don’t forget that days are shorter and cold night comes quickly. Dress for the location you’re in, not where you’re from.  When I was living up at Lake Tahoe I remember seeing people coming out of a plane dressed for Palo Alto (light jackets, etc) not the Sierras.  This becomes obviously more of an issue when preflighting in the tundra the next morning.  A basic tenet of all mountain flying is to carry warmth, but make sure to double or triple it in the winter.  However the most significant point I can make about winter flying is:  Don’t fly a frozen airplane.  The best thing is to prevent it from freezing by storing it in a heated hangar.  If that’s not an option, then you’ll need to warm it up berfore you start it.  Heated hangars are best again for this, but you can also use a forced air heater which can be rented from most cold-weather FBOs.  But whatever you do, don’t try to start the engine until is has properly warmed up.  A single start of a cold engine can wear internal parts more than hundreds of hours of normal operations.  

This is not meant to I be a manual for winter flying—I’m just bringing up some of the things to think about and look into before you actually need them.