Flying in Small Aircraft in the Winter

The Midwestern United States puts on a spectacular show in the winter months. Those willing to brave the cold temperatures can enjoy magical sights like glimmering snow-coated tree branches, ice-blanketed lakes, and waterfalls that have turned into cascading icy spires.

Although the winter wonderland in the Midwest is a sight to behold, it can potentially increase the anxiety level of nervous fliers. For those who may already be dealing with stress due to a medical condition, snow and ice may increase their apprehension about flying to a location for treatment, especially if it involves travel in a small aircraft.

Safety Is Always First

Weather conditions that forecasters caution people about when driving in winter weather, or even going outside, may be fine for an aircraft to take off, cruise, and land. Few people, other than aviation professionals, understand how to read aviation weather reports.

Winter weather, including strong and gusty winds, icing conditions, and blowing and drifting snow, require careful planning and special winter operating procedures for all aircraft. Fortunately, the experienced volunteer pilots providing free medical air travel and humanitarian flights for organizations like LifeLine Pilots take all steps necessary to ensure that flights are safe. These experienced pilots take precautions for winter operating procedures.

When flying with LifeLine Pilots, or other volunteer pilot organizations, passengers must have a backup plan, especially in winter. Safety is always the top priority. Your backup plan could be changing the day/time of the appointment and rescheduling your flight, driving to your appointment, or booking a commercial flight.

Safety Check Protocol

Before taking to the air, all planes undergo rigorous scrutiny, including:

A Preflight Check

Every part of the plane is inspected, including tire pressure, which can drop in cold weather, snow and ice removal, and the engine.

Inspecting Plane Openings

If parked outside, especially in an area with blowing snow, special attention is paid to ensure aircraft openings where snow could enter, freeze, and obstruct the plane’s operation are clear. These areas include:

  • Heater intakes
  • The main wheel and tail wheel wells
  • Carburetor intakes
  • Pitot tubes
  • Anti-torque and elevator controls

Warming Up the Aircraft

Warming up the aircraft in cold weather is critical, especially if it’s not stored in a hangar. The plane is examined for hazards. Care is taken to ensure that the heat duct is not blowing on flammable parts of the airplane, like canvas engine covers, flexible fuel, oil, hydraulic lines, or upholstery.

Removing Ice from the Aircraft

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “…prohibit[s] takeoff when snow, ice, or frost is adhering to the wings, propellers, or control surfaces of an aircraft.” Some aircraft are equipped with anti-icing, which prevents ice from forming while flying, or deicing systems, which remove ice after it forms. Ground deicing may be available from the airport prior to takeoff.

Your pilot in command will know their aircraft and its capability to fly in icing conditions. They will make the final determination on the conditions and their ability to fly.

Checking Fuel Vents

Fuel tank vents are always inspected before each take-off to ensure that a vent plugged by ice or snow doesn’t cause mechanical issues.

Calling Ahead for Cold-Weather Airport Services

Gas, hangar space, and other cold-weather services can be crucial to a successful flight in winter weather, so pilots call ahead to the fixed base operator (FBO) on their route to verify that service will be available.

Dressing for Your Flight

Waiting on the runway for takeoff can be chilly. Arrive for your flights prepared with warm clothing, including winter coats, hats, and gloves.

Your Back-Up Plan

Even large, commercial airlines cannot avoid weather-related canceled flights. According to Business Insider, “Each year, cold winter weather leads to 60,000 flight cancellations in the United States” for commercial flights. Small aircraft are less equipped to fly in adverse weather conditions.

Safety is always our top priority at LifeLine Pilots. When flying, all passengers must have a backup plan, especially in winter. Your backup plan could be changing the day/time of the appointment and rescheduling your flight, driving to your appointment, or booking a commercial flight.

Help Us Ensure Everyone Can Access Medical Care

Thanks to the diligence of our experienced pilots, you can be assured that every safety measure will be taken. So even if flying during the winter weather gives you pause, you can relax and concentrate on reaching your destination.

Serving the Midwest, LifeLine Pilots’ volunteer pilots complete hundreds of missions each year, bringing patients to and from lifesaving medical care. They donate their time and expertise and the use of their aircraft and accept all of the expenses necessary to ensure that the sick can acquire the treatments they need, regardless of the distance from home.

The organization was founded on the principle that everyone, regardless of income or location, should have access to quality healthcare. LifeLine Pilots receives no government funding. Instead, volunteer pilots support LifeLine Pilots by giving millions in donated flight time and planes ($1.6 million last year alone!).

LifeLine Pilots can make these flights available to people in need through the generosity of individuals, businesses, and foundations. There are so many ways you can help. Your cash or crypto contribution, donations from shopping at AmazonSmile, or even your time as a volunteer can ensure that a person gets the healthcare they need.