It’s still winter and in a predictable follow up to the Cirrus FIKI discussion last week we get into when is it OK to fly in ice in a non-approved aircraft. (This may stir up a hornet’s nest so bear with me.) Some of you commented “never” and others were less restrictive. Most of us are prone to be cautious, which is very smart relative to ice, so this is more of an academic discussion but some are prone to push it.
Before we get too deep into the esoterica, here are some solid references that make much of the discussion moot.
* ASF’s online course: Weather Wise: Precipitation and Icing
* ASF’s Safety Advisor on Icing: Aircraft Icing
Only in government dictionaries is it possible to equate the words “known” and “forecast”. But if you’re not to get cross threaded with the FAA on Flight into Known Icing (FIKI) in a non-approved aircraft, you need to understand. AOPA has just gotten an interpretation of FIKI from the FAA’s Chief Legal Counsel. A full explanation can be found at “FAA letter offers new “known icing” definition”.
It took three and half pages, single-spaced, to describe FAA’s interpretation. Seemed like overkill. By my operational definition, it’s straightforward as to when a non-approved aircraft is operated in violation: 1) There is significant ice adhering to the airframe and there is an Inspector to greet me on landing to observe it, or 2) I caused a significant ATC disruption due to icing.
However, that is not what either the FAA or NTSB take as gospel. Earlier FAA interpretations were over broad, making a complex subject much too black and white.
After spending some time with the interpretation, it actually begins to make some sense. The topic of how and when to fly in potential icing is anything but black and white. There’s plenty of opportunity for pilots to hang themselves but also the chance for redemption. For example, to quote from the letter,” The FAA does not necessarily consider the mere presence of clouds…..at or below freezing temperatures…to constitute known icing.”
It also goes on to say, if there is ice on an aircraft, that is not the only factor FAA will consider. ….The FAA will evaluate those actions taken by the pilot …to determine if they were reasonable….” Essentially cases will be judged on their merits.
From a practical perspective the idea is to get as much utility out of our aircraft without getting caught between hard ground and hard ice. Regardless of good or not-so-good forecasts, we need to have a solid escape route available at any time. With that, chances are very good that if you need to ask ATC for a diversion or altitude change, it will never escalate to anything of consequence. Get the priorities straight: It’s not about legality – it’s about not crashing!
And please don’t forget to file a Pirep of either ice or no ice to help the next pilot. You won’t be violated for requesting an altitude change due to ice (and reporting it). If a violation’s filed it’s because of other more incriminating evidence. But just to be on the safe side, it doesn’t hurt to be a member of AOPA’s legal service plan.