Winter operations are demanding. For pilots, even a light snow or cold temperatures can introduce threats to the operation that need to be recognized and effectively managed. Careful planning for expected winter threats, and using good CRM and threat and error management for unexpected ones, will contribute to a safe operation.
Identifying winter threats and preparing for winter ops begins before we report for a trip. Pilots are proactively aware of weather forecasts to recognize potential threats, leading to a formulated a mitigation strategy:
- Consider if the airport you’re operating into is a Special Winter Ops Airport (SWOA) with multiple long runways and capable snow removal, or a smaller airport with shorter runways and marginal snow removal resources
- Review Vol 1 SP.16 Adverse Weather for cold weather operation, guidelines for takeoff on contaminated runways, guidelines for landing with braking action less than good and ground de/anti-icing procedures
- Review fleet-specific de-icing procedures, hold over times with accompanying visual inspection requirements and proper preflight procedures
Use your expertise and the tools available to assess the situation and maintain safety, but know that even the best detailed taxi plan brief can be derailed with rapidly changing winter weather. All-engine taxi with engine anti-ice on while monitoring engine run up requirements helps mitigate contaminated ramps, taxiways and runways. Pilots should continually assess rapidly changing braking conditions. Delaying checklists and briefings until stopped may be necessary so both pilots can monitor the taxi and verify airplane location with obscured taxiway and runway markings. Stopping to brief, verify and complete a departure runway change checklist would be appropriate with a runway change due to deteriorating conditions.
Challenging winter operations are a reminder that the best place to create time is on the ground.
Use cruise flying time to prepare for the busy terminal environment. Fuel planning is critical as a comfortable fuel load can dwindle quickly with runway changes and closures due to snow removal. Early communication with Flight Control concerning destination, primary and secondary alternates, weather and field conditions is essential. Additionally, winter operations are stressful for passengers too, so updates as time safely permits are appreciated.
Landings during winter ops warrant diligent planning for expected and unexpected threats. Pilots should always consider crew capability, MELs and their impact on stopping capability, contaminant type and age of report and ATIS/NOTAMs for runways and taxiways. A healthy skepticism about braking action reports, particularly on high speed turnoffs where nose wheel slippage may cause the airplane to continue straight ahead off the paved surface, can protect the aircraft and passengers. Delta experiences several taxiway excursions each year, especially at high speed turnoffs.
At the Gate
The challenges continue all the way to the gate and after the parking brake is set. Methodically verifying the airplane is not moving uncommanded on a slippery ramp is a safety mandate. Jetway stairs can be slippery from water, ice and snow, please use of handrails ― especially when carrying crew bags. Ramp conditions may also be more hazardous than anticipated. Please remain situationally aware with reduced visibilities and ramp plowing operations in progress around the airplane.