Flying in Winter

Poor traffic conditions are a challenge for many road users in the winter months. But how does winter work on aircraft? We asked our pilots about flying during the cold months – so this week, we’ll be revealing to you what they have to be especially careful of.

How do pilots deal with slippery take-off and landing runways in winter?
Winter Fliegen.jpg

It’s not just slippery on the roads in winter; runways can be pretty difficult as well. When aircraft take off for their next destination, slippery take-off and landing runways present pilots and aircraft with a real challenge. Car drivers can counteract the problem with winter tyres and snow chains. These remedies just aren’t an option for aircraft, however. That’s why pilots have to carry out precise calculations for the runways being used during every take-off and every landing procedure. These calculations also include the current runway and weather conditions.

During landing, it’s important that the aircraft brakes efficiently. In addition to brakes in the wheels, aerodynamic braking options such as landing flaps, brakes and spoilers, as well as thrust in the engines are used. Also, a range of safety systems, such as the anti-skid system, is activated on the aircraft. This is comparable to ABS on your car, which prevents the tyres from blocking.

Our crew is well prepared for the cold season thanks to their extensive training and the high level of professional maintenance of our aircraft. For Austrian Airlines, safety is always our top priority and you will always arrive safely at your destination, even in winter.

We continue to be curious and want to know what the so-called "de-icing" of an aircraft is all about and what exactly happens.

Why is an aircraft de-iced?

Icy conditions are part and parcel of winter, of course. For aircraft, however, these wintry conditions present a huge challenge: ice can influence flight behaviour and aerodynamics unfavourably due to all that extra weight. Based on how heavy the ice is, the cockpit crew decides whether only the wings need to be de-iced or, for example, the fuselage as well. Depending on their size and the airport being used, our aircraft are freed up from snow and ice with a de-icing fluid, either directly in their parking position or on a de-icing pad. To do this, special vehicles are used to spray the passenger aircraft with a jet nozzle.

Winter Reisen Fliegen.jpg

Contingent on the weather situation or forecast, a protective layer, so-called ‘anti-icing’, is applied. This layer remains on the wings until take-off. During the take-off procedure, this disappears due to the increasing speed, and the aircraft leaves the ground with clean surfaces.

De-icing fluid and anti-icing consist of a blend of glycol, water and additives – in differing mixing ratios, which make it possible to work out a specific time window. If the take-off is delayed for some reason, the aircraft has to go back to its parking position to be given a new protective layer.

Once the aircraft is in the air, its onboard systems take over responsibility for de-icing. Iced-up leading edges of the aircraft are freed up from ice using hot air from the engines. Other parts of the aircraft are not affected by de-icing due to the high flight speed.

So many exciting insights into travelling in winter! Thanks to our pilots for their detailed replies.

Want to know even more about our fleet, aviation or Austrian Airlines? Then send us your questions on social media!

Header photo ©alexcheban

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