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Cold Weather Operations....again!

Cold Weather Operations....again!

So, it’s that time of year again in the Northern Hemisphere. The winter season. In many regions it brings with it skiing, ice climbing, dog sledging, skidooing, night flying ad nauseum, precipitation and of course icing. Deano’s recent article highlighted insidious elements of the cold such as accidentally getting your tongue stuck to the nose cone of your aircraft in Russia, and then quickly becoming hypothermic as a result. Treacherous, I agree. 

Today, I wanted to share a winter experience that seems to repeat itself annually. Indeed, in commercial aviation the lesson is worth remembering all-year round; namely, the all important financial imperative (Ops this is for you). There’s also a little bit of cold-operations common sense in this article, picked up whilst flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Great White North.

As you will probably agree, it can be difficult to accurately predict when aircraft icing will occur both in the air and on the ground. There are a variety of diverse conditions that can cause aircraft icing - from slow flight in thick cloud at +5 deg C, to supercooled droplets falling on relatively warm aircraft in cold air at minus 20 deg C. Indeed, just as accurately forecasting cloud base and visibility can be difficult - icing is a fickle enemy.

So, the other day in Le Bourget imagine the surprise when we were unexpectedly presented with this picture for an early morning flight. If the aircraft had been left outside over night, it would probably need de-icing before takeoff. And as pilots and operators know, deicing an aircraft can be costly when using chemical services ($1000s vice $100s).

Certainly, the passengers will agree deicing is expensive when they pick up the bill retrospectively. This can cause a caustic reaction. So, negotiating with clients early is key.  However, to do this we have to know what the weather will do, or get some cheap (free?) hangar space for the night, or even for an hour or two beforehand to thaw the aircraft (if ongoing precipitation is sufficiently light). 

If you have the time and opt to thaw the aircraft in a hangar, rather than spend money on deicing, then remember that a warm aircraft needs to be ‘cold soaked’ before being towed back out into any precipitation, particularly snow, because it will adhere to a warm aircraft and turn to ice on contact. Back to square one.

So, Ops apply pressure on the day, ‘the deicing is not included in the clients’ price’. Well, eventually everyone agrees safety is key, and Ops acquiesce. Though, not without a global reminder to all crews to give them the heads up in advance when our ‘spider-senses’ sniff out potential icing conditions. One more thing to remember. Tricky. But I guess that’s just the happy tension that always exists between operators (safety) and HQ Operations ($).