Winter Operations

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Winter operations are upon us. What do we need to consider while operating in season’s winter environment?

In the winter we are faced with all sorts of hazards. Obvious the ones come to mind are snow and ice on runways, icing while flying, etc. How well was your aircraft De-iced? Did you observe how they completed it? Did they conduct a post deicing to find frozen contaminants left on the wing? Was the fluid used at the proper temperature? It is up to us to make sure it is done right.

Other issues arise in the winter that we should consider. How does the weather affect your performance? Are you rushing the walk around because you don’t have your jacket? Don’t let Human Factors create unsafe shortcuts.

Let’s dive into the issue. The day starts out with snow as you go to the airport. We must start out being prepared for the conditions. Take time to review the weather when you get in to flight operations. All operating crew should review the weather and Captains should consider speaking with dispatch to discuss the conditions and see what other threats are present.

When preflighting the aircraft we need to look at all surfaces to determine if deicing is required? How thick is it? Is it ice, dry snow, snow over ice? All of these plays into what you should expect to see while you monitor the deicing operations. Thick snow with ice underneath will take a long time. If the deicing goes quickly you should be concerned.

The preflight will allow you to help make the assessment of the actions needed to safely depart the airport. This would include the necessary steps to push out from the gate, deicing, taxi conditions and expected conditions on the departure runway and initial climb out.

Assess the environment while you take that “cold” walk. Is the snow dry or wet and sticking to everything? Is the ramp covered in ice or is snow only? What is the condition of our destination and alternate? These are some of the questions that need to be asked. The big question after the preflight preparation is complete, should we say yes?

Take the position that you are not going until you can prove to yourself that it is safe to leave. A good rule of thumb is to think how the accident report would read and make sure it does not sound something like “The pilot failed to properly assess the ramp conditions that were unsuitable, and the aircraft struck an airport sign as it slid off the taxiway.”

Take the low-end measurements and plug those numbers into the system. Look at the time that conditions were taken, the weather and the trend of the weather to evaluate if the provided information is good. If you have ACARS available use the “Hourly” weather selection to receive both the METAR as well as the FICON. If needed, ask for update information prior to committing to an approach and landing. We have all been burned by bad information on runway conditions or landed at places that we would not have if we had known that it was even close to what we found on my arrival. Try to get as much information as possible so that does not happen again.

Take the planning enroute and come up with a plan for your approach and arrival. Take time to come up with some scenarios. Seek input on conditions from the station or updates on weather from dispatch. Ask them if anyone else has landed there and try to get pireps from fellow pilots. Plan for the go-around and the proper technique for landing. Firm contact on the touchdown zone will give you the best results and maximize the runway in front of you. Remember that the runway behind you does you NO good.

Reversers are a good thing. Plan and brief your reverser usage. Quick activation of reversers is very important. Triggering them quickly after touchdown translates into them being available at high speed where they are most effective. As the tires get a better bite on the runway you can transfer more of the stopping to the brakes and begin to be ready to stow reversers. Finish out the landing by bringing it to a slow straight ahead roll that you can then translate into an easy turn off. Captains, if necessary, please brief when you are planning to take the aircraft. A swap at 80kts with reversers still out and braking may not be the best time.

Good usage of the rudder, firm planting of the nose gear should help you keep your centerline in all but the most serious conditions. Tires only have a certain amount of grip. Tires use this grip for cornering, keeping you straight, and for stopping. Five degrees of sideslip achieves the maximum cornering force. Exceeding this will quickly see your traction levels drop off. If you feel that you are not effectively maintaining centerline, reduce or stow the reversers.

Taxiing into the gate still has hazards. Most are similar to taxing out and all should be evaluated. Don’t rush to get to the gate. Take it very slowly in the gate area and envelope. We don’t want to ruin our safe flight by sliding into a jetway or stairs, as has been done in the past by other airlines. Once you are safely at the gate and shut down, it is time to either do it again or think of the next crew. If you are leaving the plane and they are not there, try to get power and heat.

So, I must admit that it probably took more than a few minutes I promised to read this. I am simply hoping that it will prompt some thinking and question asking when you are on the line. We should always put safety first and satisfy all of our questions before we leave the gate. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact the committee.

Fly Safe!
Your Safety Committee