Generally, our weather decisions are based on experience, book knowledge, and a willingness to reduce whatever risk we find in the process. I believe all of us do what we can to stay legal; where we fall short in the process is recognizing the potential outcome, based on the weather data we find. Current and forecast weather conditions are just the first step towards your Go or No-Go decision. Enroute weather or what you see out the window affects our immediate decision making, but did we plan for unforecast conditions? Knowing your personal weather minimums and pre-planning is where risk levels change, for better or for worse.
Setting personal weather thresholds is all about taking an honest examination of your experience level and setting boundaries on what your skill and experience affords you to safely operate. The key to effective thresholds is being honest with yourself, identifying what makes you uneasy, scares you, or maybe what weather you have just never had to consider.
Let’s take a look at a short inventory of weather related questions that you may need to consider for your day-to-day flying:
Crosswinds (Of course, this IS North Dakota):
Keeping in mind that the Maximum Demonstrated X-Wind component of your aircraft is NOT a limitation. A combination of aircraft aerodynamics and your ability to manage control are the limitations! Consider the following:
When was the last time you operated in significant crosswinds?
How many crosswind landings have you accomplished in the last month, three months, or year?
How confident were you when operating in those conditions?
Did you walk away from the airplane thinking, “That was a bit scary?”
Are you comfortable flying above small temperature and dew point spreads at night?
How marginal of a ceiling is too marginal? (i.e. “The last time I flew with a 1500’ ceiling it was stressful”, or “I became so distracted trying to read what the clouds were telling me that I lost situational awareness.”)
How marginal IS marginal visibility to you? (i.e. Light snow with 6SM visibility or you want nothing falling from the sky?)
Icing (Assuming the aircraft is rated for icing conditions):
How much icing is too much for you or the aircraft (i.e. light rime or moderate clear etc?)
What icing types would you rather not deal with? Can you anticipate weather patterns that favor those types?
When was the last time you flew in icing conditions?
It’s been years since you encountered ice during a flight, AIRMETs along your route are forecasting moderate icing, no PIREPS are available. Are you going to alter your route or fly through the AIRMET?
Are you comfortable flying across a warm front in winter?
The answers to these questions can be discussed with your local Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) or maybe it’s time to get back into the books and refresh your knowledge on these topics. Either way, considerations must be given before you go flying.
Beyond the items listed above you may consider using a Flight Risk Analysis Tool (FRAT.) These tools are available through most industry providers and my favorite website: www.faasafety.gov.
WINGS Proficiency Program needs you - Join today! www.faasafety.gov. Safety is a motivated action which requires attention, skill, and refreshment throughout time.
Jay M. Flowers, Safety Educator, Airline Transport Pilot, CFI, Fellow Aviator