Only 365 more shopping days til Christmas in 2015 (NOT counting those left for 2014), so here’s your annual reminder that icing season is upon us. It’s not a big accident producer—on average about one per month during the icing season—but I prefer not to participate and suspect you agree.
With an aircraft equipped for FIKI (flight into known icing) it’s not quite so critical, but you’ll still want to escape early, and often. For those of us not so equipped, avoidance is the only strategy. The legality discussion and why the FAA wants to prosecute FAR Part 91 pilots who get into ice is a curiosity to me. We don’t prohibit people from flying into thunderstorms, and with both phenomena the outcome is often self-correcting to trespassers. (Don’t take this as a suggestion that there should be new anti-thunderstorm regs for Part 91!)
The state of the art in ice forecasting is OK but not great. Datalink services do not provide the level of accuracy that’s available with convective weather.
Planning and flexibility are key. Tops, bases, temperatures, moisture content, terrain, MEAs, timing, and pireps are the decision points on figuring out if a trip is viable. NWS’s CIP/FIP on its Aviation Digital Data Services website is helpful, but a suspicious mindset is perhaps the best survival tool. What makes this complicated is that the critical question isn’t just whether it’s below freezing but if there’s moisture content as well. Mountains complicate everything with lifting airflows, high en route altitudes, and few airports to escape to.
There’s not near as much ice in the Dakotas as close to the great lakes or the Pacific Northwest. A big surprise is the prodigious icing that occurs in the Southland during midwinter. Northern Texas and Oklahoma make national TV pretty much every winter with ice storms. Had to cancel a trip last year in a fully deiced turboprop with a friend, not because the aircraft couldn’t deal with it, but the runways were impossible with braking action poor to nil. It’s nothing to mess with.
ASI’s “Accident Case Study: Delayed Reaction” and my “Safety Pilot Landmark Accident: Unpredicted-Unadvised-Unaware” story of the TBM 700 that crashed in New Jersey, just penetrating a seemingly benign layer, serve as warning enough.
Pireps (broken record here): Please get and give them. The more we put into the system the better the forecasts become and the safer the flights are. VFR pilots have little to worry about because there’s no ice outside of clouds unless there’s freezing rain/drizzle. I’ve only been there once with only the briefest encounter…ugly! Was with a student in a Cessna 150 in good VMC when the windshield started to ice up. We were well below the clouds and only a few minutes from our home airport. Glad that’s all it was, and landing was accomplished looking out the side window.
For IFR pilots, ask ATC for flight conditions and give reports—the Air Safety Institute has been working with ATC to make sure these are getting into the system. No need to leave the frequency to speak with FSS unless you’re planning on doing that anyway.
This week is ASI’s Ice Week featuring many of ASI’s icing-related safety programs, such as this case study and analysis of an accident that occurred when the pilot of a Cirrus SR22 encountered unforecast icing over the Sierra Nevada mountains. We also have a live webinar, “Known Icing, Known Risk,” to be held on October 30, 2014, at 7:00 pm. Visit the Ice Week page to register.