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British Airways captain ranks the worst sorts of weather for flying


What’s the worst weather for flight?

Captain Steve Allright runs British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course for nervous flyers and within the fascinating companion book – Flying With Confidence: The Proven Programme To Fix Your Flying Fears (Random House UK) – reveals that this can be a query he’s asked often by attendees.

To assist answer it, within the tome he gives probably the most potentially dangerous sorts of weather a rating out of 10 for his or her power to cause a diversion, based on his own personal experience and diversion stories from colleagues.

Read on for his rating – ‘the upper the number the more fuel I carry’.

Plus, there’s further insight on flying in bad weather from book This Is Your Captain Speaking by Air Canada Dreamliner captain Doug Morris.

Captain Steve Allright runs British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course for nervous flyers

High temperatures (and/or high-altitude airfields). Diversion rating – zero out of ten

Captain Allright says: ‘When the air is very popular, it becomes very “thin” and the engines don’t run so efficiently and the wings don’t produce as much lift, the identical effect as being at a really high altitude, reminiscent of in Johannesburg (5,751ft/1,753m).

‘We call these airfields “hot and high” and, although not dangerous, this mixture presents a specific set of challenges to pilots. We just need an extended runway for take-off and landing and wish to take note of how the conditions will affect the performance of the aircraft.’

Captain Doug Morris explains further that in these conditions take-off speeds are higher, with pilots sometimes reducing weight – fewer passengers and fewer cargo – to make sure the aircraft gets airborne safely.

He writes: ‘You’ll find many airlines within the Middle East operating most of their flights through the wee hours of the night, as temperatures are somewhat cooler. Luckily for them, most airports sit at elevations near sea level.’

Due to their high altitudes, Captain Morris adds, Denver (5,434ft/1,656m) and Calgary (3,556ft/1,083m) have a number of the longest runways in North America.

Flying With Confidence – The Proven Programme To Fix Your Flying Fears (Random House UK) is available now

Flying With Confidence – The Proven Programme To Fix Your Flying Fears (Random House UK) is offered now

Ice. Diversion rating – one out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘There are two effects of ice – one on the bottom, and one within the air. To be able to take off safely, the upper surface of the wing have to be clear of ice. For that reason, aircraft are usually de-iced very first thing within the morning after a frost and before every take-off if icy conditions still exist. Within the air, it is feasible for ice to build up on the wings, normally on the forefront, during flight through cloud when the air temperature is near freezing.

‘All business aircraft have some type of anti-icing and/or de-icing system on board, normally hot air taken from the engine and piped along the front of the wing.

‘An icy runway wouldn’t be not possible to land on – airports in very cold climates often have heated runways.’

Captain Morris points out considered one of the positives for pilots of cold weather.

He writes: ‘Cold temperatures mean denser air, which is welcomed by any aviator. Frigid air at -40C is about one-third denser than hot air at 40C. Denser air produces more lift over the wings and flight controls in addition to more thrust from the engines and propellers.

‘You’ll understand what pilots mean once they describe the climb performance as resembling a “homesick angel”.’

He adds that one challenge in cold weather is the shipping of livestock – ‘hairless cats and dogs are forbidden to travel through the winter’.

Hail. Diversion rating – one out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘Hail is generally only related to thunderstorms or rapidly constructing clouds and due to this fact you would need to be flying inside such a cloud for the aircraft to be exposed to hail. While this isn’t not possible resulting from the constraints of crowded airspace, it is amazingly rare and frequently only occurs for a really short time period. I even have flown through hail a number of times and, other than being quite loud within the flight deck, it has absolutely no effect on the aircraft. I even have seen photographs of aircraft which have been hail damaged by extremely large dense hail, all of which have continued to land safely.’

Heavy rain. Diversion rating – one out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘Modern aircraft engines can deal with an enormous amount of water ingestion, reminiscent of flying through a dense rain cloud. The one real concern for pilots operating in heavy rain is a flooded runway. Even then, because aircraft are very directionally stable on the bottom and in addition equipped with extremely effective anti-skid brakes, it could take an enormous and sudden downpour to render a runway unsuitable for take-off and landing.’

Captain Morris adds that a wet runway actually has a bonus for pilots – they make it easier to avoid a thud on touchdown.

Lightning. Diversion rating – two out of 10

Veteran Air Canada Dreamliner captain Doug Morris (above) is the author of fascinating book This Is Your Captain Speaking

Veteran Air Canada Dreamliner captain Doug Morris (above) is the writer of fascinating book This Is Your Captain Speaking

Captain Allright says: ‘Lightning strikes are rare however the aircraft is well designed to deal with such an event. Actually, the strike normally has no effect by any means on the serviceability of the aircraft. That is primarily because all aircraft are fitted with static wicks on the rear of the wing and tailplane. These are in regards to the size of a protracted pencil, and are specifically designed to discharge any excess static electricity that the aircraft may accumulate. A lightning strike will be quite alarming, as they typically end in a loud bang, but rest assured that they’ll have little or no effect on the protection of the aircraft.’

Captain Morris adds that airliners get hit by lightning about yearly and might be checked over by engineers afterwards.

Fog. Diversion rating – three out of 10

 Lightning strikes are rare however the aircraft is well designed to deal with such an event. Actually, the strike normally has no effect by any means on the serviceability of the aircraft

Captain Steve Allright, British Airways 

Fog isn’t hazardous or difficult for pilots to fly in, says Captain Allright, nevertheless it gets a 3 since it normally ends in delays.

He continues: ‘Almost every modern airfield has an Instrument Landing System (ILS) that permits aircraft to land safely in even probably the most limiting visibility.

‘[But] the same old spacing applied between landing aircraft needs to be increased in low visibility operations.’

This results, he explains, in a reduced ‘flow rate’ and for aircraft to ‘hold’ in a queueing system.

He adds: ‘If fog is forecast… a lot of us would consider extra fuel to enable us to carry for longer.’

Snow. Diversion rating – three out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘Snow causes no problem to aircraft within the air but may end up in delays on the bottom. For a similar reason that ice needs to be faraway from the wing, the identical applies to snow. Heated de-icing fluid is used to remove any snow that has settled on to the wing and de-icing fluid is then applied to create a “holdover time”, which prevents any further snow that’s falling selecting the wing.

‘Our pilots will at all times also perform a visible inspection just before take-off from contained in the cabin to examine the wing remains to be clear.

‘In the event you are ever on board an aircraft that has been de-iced, it’s possible you’ll notice that the fluid applied is green or orange. That is consider to indicate that it remains to be present. It could appear quite “gloopy” and, again, that is normal.

‘Landing on a snow-covered runway isn’t normal nevertheless it is perfectly protected, so long as the snow has been compacted.

‘The fundamental problem with snow is that parking stands can turn into limited, as aircraft waiting to be de-iced occupy stands that may otherwise be vacated.’

This Is Your Captain Speaking (Ecw Press) is out now

This Is Your Captain Speaking (Ecw Press) is out now

Strong winds. Diversion rating – 4 out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘Strong winds are brought on by many differing types of weather, and aircraft are well equipped to handle them. Each aircraft type has its own limit after all, typically around 70mph or, if the wind happens to be across the runway, called a crosswind, nearer 50mph.

‘Taking off or landing in a crosswind can look like quite dramatic from outside the aircraft, and may feel quite uncomfortable inside as well. Pilots are trained for this challenge, and we take skilled satisfaction at handling it safely.’

Captain Morris adds that it’s ‘doable’ to take off right into a 100mph wind blowing right down the runway. ‘Attending to the runway can be the challenge,’ he explains. ‘Plus it’s essential to take into consideration ground operations and flying debris.’

Thunderstorms. Diversion rating – five out of 10

Captain Allright says: ‘Cumulonimbus cloud, or “Charlie Bravos”, CBs, as we call them, present probably the most important challenge to a planned arrival. Flight crew can be highly unlikely to take off or land with an enormous thunderstorm overhead due to rapidly changing wind conditions, lightning and heavy precipitation in the shape of rain or hail.

‘Fortunately, business aircraft are fitted with high-technology weather radar that detects this precipitation, enabling the flight crew to discover a thunderstorm from over 100 miles (160km) away and take avoiding motion, day or night. It is feasible to fly through a thunderstorm safely, and sometimes that is mandatory due to crowded airspace. This can feel quite turbulent and uncomfortable within the cabin, nevertheless it is completely protected. Thunderstorms are really only an issue if there’s an enormous storm over an airfield you are attempting to land at. The wind around and beneath a thunderstorm can change in speed and direction in a short time, which might change the quantity of lift being produced by the wings.’

Flying With Confidence – The Proven Programme To Fix Your Flying Fears (Random House UK) is offered now.

To book yourself on the British Airways Flying with Confidence course visit www.flyingwithconfidence.com. The day normally starts around 9am and is split into morning (technical) and afternoon (psychology) sessions, followed by a flight on a BA jet with a running commentary from a course pilot from the flight deck. The course runs at London Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Dubai and Johannesburg. The courses on the latter two locations are entirely ground-based, with no flight included.

Steve Allright usually runs the Heathrow course and has been a British Airways captain on the 757/767, 747 and is now flying the 787. He has clocked over 18,000 flying hours.

Coming soon – MailOnline goes contained in the Flying With Confidence course to search out out first-hand the way it helps nervous flyers.

This Is Your Captain Speaking by Captain Doug Morris is out now. 

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