The high temperatures across Europe this summer have made headlines. But what does this mean for those who travel on a private jet?
Frequent air travelers know all too well that weather can play havoc on their plans: bad weather can cause delays and cancelations. This is not just the case when flying commercially, but also when flying private.
So, how exactly does weather affect private jet flights? There are a number of different weather conditions that can impact your private jet flight. Here are some of the most common.
The wind is one of the most common weather conditions that can impact your flight, both on the ground as well as in the air.
With a headwind, your plane is flying against the wind, which will slow it down: at the same airspeed, you have a lower groundspeed. A tailwind, on the other hand, can increase ground speed and shorten your flight time, as the aircraft is being pushed through the air. Because of this, the same trip will take less time when there's a tailwind than with a headwind, resulting in a flight time that could be up to 20 percent shorter.
While this would mean a time difference of some 25 minutes on a 2-hour flight, the difference is more clearly noticeable on trans-Atlantic flights due to the much higher Westerly winds in the upper earth atmosphere (jet streams), resulting in time differences of up to multiple hours.
Heavy winds also impact take-off and landing performance of a private jet. While all aircraft are designed to withstand windy conditions, private jets are usually more subject to heavy winds because of their smaller size and lower weight.
Crosswinds, when the wind direction is not aligned with the runway, can be even more challenging. While aircraft usually take off and land into the wind, not all airports have a runway that is aligned perfectly with the specific wind direction at that moment. This can be challenging during take-off and landings, as the plane has to fight harder against the wind to stay on course and aligned with the runway.
Luckily, pilots are highly trained to deal with all sorts of wind conditions, and are able to take off and land safely even in strong crosswinds.
While a high temperature may not seem like a big deal, it can actually have a pretty significant impact on private jet flights. The hotter it is outside, the less dense the air becomes, which in turn affects the aerodynamics and engine performance of an airplane. In hot weather, aircraft engines are less efficient due to the thinner air, which increases the required runway length for take-off. In addition, the thinner air also has a negative effect on the amount of lift an airplane can generate, meaning that a private jet has to work harder to get airborne in hot weather.
Additionally, high temperatures can also cause turbulence, which can make for a bumpy and less comfortable flight.
Precipitation, whether it be rain, snow, or sleet, can also have an impact on private jet flights. The main concern with precipitation is poor visibility: if the weather is too bad, the pilot may not be able to see the runway clearly, making it unsafe to take off or land without the proper instrumentation or guidance systems. In addition, precipitation can also result in a slippery runway, making it more difficult for an airplane to take off and land safely.
To improve visibility during heavy precipitation, most private jets and commercial aircraft are equipped with windshield wipers, just like regular cars, or other windshield clearing technologies. This is especially needed at lower speeds (such as during taxiing), as the lower airspeed can cause the precipitation to stick to the windshield more easily.
Another consideration with precipitation is icing. Icing occurs when moisture in the air condenses on an aircraft and freezes, potentially causing serious problems. During winter operations, snow and ice are a major concern: frozen contaminants can build up on an airplane's wings and interfere with the aerodynamic properties of the airplane, causing it to lose lift and increase drag. This can be very dangerous during takeoff and landing, when the plane is already flying at a low speed. In addition, dislodged ice can damage the engines or other important parts of the airplane.
Just like heavy precipitation, flights may be delayed or canceled because of poor visibility due to fog. While most commercial airports are equipped with the latest technology to help pilots see through fog, smaller airports often do not offer the same instrument landing systems (ILS).
Runway visibility is expressed by pilots and airports as Runway Visual Range, or RVR. Regulations state that a certain RVR is required for visual take-offs and landings, and when visibility drops below a certain range, special operations procedures have to be put into place in order for the flight to take place safely. During these operations, the number of simultaneous airport movements is limited and the spacing between aircraft has to be increased, which can cause delays as fewer aircraft can take off and land at the same time.
Luckily, fog is usually a very temporary and isolated weather phenomenon so it does not cause extensive delays or cancellations as often as other weather conditions. However, it is something to keep in mind when planning early morning flights, as fog is more likely to form in the early hours of the day.
Thunderstorms are perhaps the most notorious weather phenomenon when it comes to aviation. They can cause all sorts of problems, from turbulence and wind shear, to lightning strikes.
Turbulence is caused by the updrafts and downdrafts within a thunderstorm, and can make for a very bumpy flight. Wind shear, on the other hand, is caused by the difference in wind speed and direction at different altitudes within a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes are also a major concern during thunderstorms, and while an airplane is designed to withstand a lightning strike, it is still something pilots want to avoid.
When thunderstorm clouds, or Cumulonimbus (CB) clouds, are located above or in the vicinity of your departure airport, your flight could be delayed until the weather improves. Also, refueling of an aircraft is prohibited in this case because of the risks associated with lightning, which can further delay your departure.
In general, private jets are better equipped to deal with thunderstorms than commercial airliners. They are able to climb faster and over a shorter distance, which means they can get above the turbulence and out of the storm more quickly. In addition, private jets typically have more flexibility during approach, as the smaller aircraft can be maneuvered around bad weather more easily.
Generally speaking, weather conditions that impact visibility have a greater influence on private jet flights than it does on commercial flights. This is because private jets usually fly in and out of smaller airports that are more susceptible to weather-related disruptions, as many of these airports are not equipped with the same type of landing and navigational aids that larger airports have.
In addition, private jets are lighter than their commercial counterparts, which means that they are more likely to be impacted by stronger (cross)winds and turbulence. Therefore, many private jet operators will not take off or land in certain weather conditions, even though commercial flights may still be able to operate in those same conditions.
While it is true smaller aircraft may be more impacted by certain weather conditions, a private jet flight does allow for last-minute changes and flight plan flexibility, like re-routing or changing airports, which is usually not an option for commercial airlines.
Of course, the safety of passengers and crew is always the top priority for both commercial and private operators, so ultimately the decision to fly or not to fly in bad weather comes down to what the pilots feel comfortable with in terms of safety and comfort.
The best way to avoid delays due to weather is to work with an experienced private jet broker and operator who knows how to deal with different types of weather conditions. A good broker will have a solid understanding of how different aircraft perform in various weather conditions and will be able to make recommendations accordingly. He or she will also be able to offer advice on specific airports and how well they are equipped to handle bad weather or low visibility procedures, and if they have an Instrument Landing System installed.
In addition, a reputable operator will always have the most up-to-date information on current weather conditions and forecasted conditions for your destination and offer alternative routes or airports if necessary. By working with a reliable private jet broker and operator, you can rest assured that your safety and comfort are always the top priorities.
Weather can have a significant impact on private jet flights, from causing delays to outright cancellations. While private jets may be affected more easily by bad weather because of their lower weight and size, they do offer more flexibility when it comes to planning the airports, routes and dates of the flight.
Keep in mind that even if you do experience a delay due to weather, flying on a private jet is still the fastest way to travel. So, while it may be frustrating to have your flight delayed, it is important to remember that you are still getting where you need to go much faster than if you were flying commercial.