looking out a blurry rainy window towards airplane boarding.

Aviation Decision-Making and Spring Weather

The saying “in like a lion out like a lamb” is most often used for March, but April can also be a crazy weather month. While aviation training tends to focus on the go/no-go decision, equally critical are the continue/divert decisions that happen quite literally throughout the flight. Once the decision is made to divert, the next decision is to return to the departure, continue to the alternate (which was determined as part of flight planning), or pick a new destination to get out of the weather.

Pilots must consider each of these factors, relative to both their capabilities as the pilot as well as the capabilities of the aircraft they’re flying:

  • Visibility—VFR or IFR, both within the airport environment and at the altitude you’ll be flying en route.
  • Ceiling—How high are the clouds; can you fly above or around them? If you’re IFR, can you fly through them without risk of icing, severe turbulence, or storm downdrafts?
  • Wind—Is the direction and speed conducive to the runway alignment at both the departure and arrival airport? How will the tailwind or headwind impact your ground speed and therefore fuel planning?
  • Turbulence and Wind Shear—Ironically, it’s often bumpiest when the skies are the clearest. Can you, your passengers and the aircraft handle the increased structural loads with the sky bumps?
  • Thunderstorms—These can be pop-up events or contained with other weather and require a wide berth to fly around—no one should be flying through a thunderstorm.
  • Temperatures—Most general aviation aircraft have limited heating and cooling capabilities while still on the ground and rely on airflow over the engine when in the air. This tends to result in extreme conditions.

While more than 80% of all aircraft accidents are put into the “human factors” category, this also includes decision-making, often related to weather and poor flight planning. With all the variables and uncertainty that comes with weather, the number of flights that go uninterrupted and as planned daily is remarkable.

Learn more about making the best decisions based on weather conditions in the Aviation Weather Handbook, available on the ASA website.

Image by Luis Fernando Meza via Pixabay

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