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Teacher Claudia Travensolo

Aviation Words – Weather Conditions:

turbulence mist sandstorm cumulonimbus thunderstorm in flight icing

reduced visibility braking action gust wind shear microburst slippery
severe crosswind tailwind runway visual range smooth rough
slush hail gale windy rainfall shower overcast
damp wet water patches flooded snowplough de-icer windscreen wiper

1. Why is it important to check the weather reports before a flight?

To be able to calculate the amount of fuel to be used on this flight, considering the distance, weight
of the aircraft and wind direction and speed.

During the take-off and landing, the weather conditions, such as, crosswinds, rain, poor visibility,
windshear can affect the performance of the aircraft and put it at risk.

En route the safety of the flight can be affected by thunderstorms, CB clouds, icing conditions,
hailstorms, turbulence. Then if the pilots check the weather before the flight, they will be able to
deviate from these bad weather conditions en route.

2. Can turbulence be avoided? How?

Some types of turbulence can be avoided, such as the ones associated with stormy clouds formation
and CB clouds. There can be severe to extreme turbulence into these cloud formations. Besides, the
weather radar can detect them during the flight, so the pilots will be able to identify where they are,
and request the controller to change the heading in order to avoid flying into them.

On the other hand, there is a type of turbulence called clear air turbulence, which is a significant
turbulence where no clouds are present, normally at high altitude near a Jetstream. As there is no
warning, CAT may cause passengers moving in the cabin to be thrown around and injured:
concussion, broken ribs and bruising are quite common in this abnormal condition.
Teacher Claudia Travensolo
3. How does the ILS (Instrument Landing System) help the pilot land the airplane in poor

ILS – Instrument Landing System – both the airport and aircraft must be equipped with this system
in order to allow pilots to land successfully at night or when visibility is almost zero.

The localizer will provide the pilots the ideal runway heading (rumo) and the glideslope will provide
the ideal glidepath (rampa) to perform a smooth / safe landing even if the visibility is reduced.

ILS CAT II, CAT III refer to the various degrees of automation, which aircraft and airports are
equipped with, and flight crew are qualified to use. These categories involve different landing
minima, levels of horizontal and vertical visibility. CAT III C (Category three C) means that the
crew, aircraft and aerodrome are qualified and equipped to land in conditions with theoretically zero
feet vertical Decision Height, and zero feet longitudinal visibility.

4. What do you do to avoid bad weather along your route?

Check the meteorology (weather conditions) en route, and also at the departure and destination
(arrival) airport;

In case of critical weather conditions, pilots will need to divert / deviate from clouds formation to
avoid risks to the safety of the flight;

En route the safety of the flight can be affected by thunderstorms, CB clouds, icing conditions,
hailstorms, turbulence. Then if the pilots check the weather before the flight, they will be able to
deviate from these bad weather conditions en route.

Weather is of crucial importance to pilots, both in flight planning and in the safe operation of
a flight, and it affects all phases of flight. Meteorological and other environmental phenomena not
related to the weather have immediate, fast-changing and very significant effects on flight. As a result
they are a prime example of unexpected circumstances that may require communication in plain
language, not only to transmit information, but also to manage the sometimes complex effects on air
traffic. Modern aircraft are undoubtedly much better equipped to deal with different meteorological
conditions than the machines, which took to the air in the early days of powered flight. Radome is a
conical protective cover over the weather radar antenna and forming the nose of the aircraft. Weather
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reports are also a lot more reliable. Nonetheless, pilots of today's jet airliners need to deal from time
to time with several potential dangers presented by bad weather.

VFR flights are much more dependent upon good weather. Indeed VFR flying is only
permitted in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions) that is in conditions of clear visibility when
the pilot can both see and be seen. Nevertheless, frequently VFR pilot will take off in VMC but
conditions change to IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) for which he/she is neither
equipped nor qualified. A VFR pilot who is not assured of suitable weather conditions along the
planned route should not leave the ground. IFR flying is possible in most weather conditions but there
are still some constraints, e.g. no pilot, no matter how well trained, nor how sophisticated their aircraft
might be, should knowingly fly through a thunderstorm.

En-route or arriving traffic taking avoidance measures will result in a concentration of flights
and increased ATC workload by requiring additional information, unexpected flow management,
possible conflict resolution and possible deviations to alternates. On the other hand, on cruise, weather
avoidance is usually simple and localized: a temporary change of heading and then return on course
after circumventing (flying around) the obstacle; a possible climbing to a higher flight level to avoid
icing conditions or turbulence. During approach, more traffic is concentrated in a smaller airspace.
Thunderstorms in the vicinities of the airport may make approaches to the glidepath more complicated
and cause holding traffic to build up, generating further delays. Very bad weather (storms, poor
visibility) at the airport itself may make it impossible for some flights to land if the conditions are
below minima in terms of decision height, visibility or CATIII capability. This in turn will mean that
flights have to be re-routed to alternate airports.

Communication errors: In commercial aviation, where there is a lot of routine and

procedures indeed constitute safety measures, pilots and controllers may sometimes understand not
what they hear, but what they expect to hear. When routings, changes of levels, runways and taxiways,
radials and altitudes are always the same or always given at the same time or in the same conditions,
it may happen that a change in information may be likely to suffer an error and put the safety of the
flight at risk. Therefore, pilots and controllers should be constantly aware of miscommunication and
misunderstanding related to information about changes of weather in order to mitigate the risks. The
best measure to mitigate such situation is the discipline of readback and hearback over the
radiotelephony communications. Applying good crew resource management by discussing decisions,
verbalizing actions, crosschecking different source of data, using common sense, breaking out the
tunnel vision, are also effective barriers against communication errors.
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Weather reports: Clearly, weather reports are of great importance to pilots. They need to be
informed of the conditions at the departure airport, along their planned route (known as a route
forecast) and at their destination. Weather conditions can change and pilots need updated weather
reports. PIREPs (pilot reports) are sent by pilots who have recently flown through an area and can
keep other crews usefully informed. Terminal aerodrome forecasts (TAF) are continually updated
and allow pilots to predict the weather at their destination.

Air traffic controllers will always relay whatever important up-to-date weather information
they have to pilots, but the responsibility for the decision to take off from or land at a particular airport
rests firmly with the pilot. This was the subject of some debate after an Airbus A340 accident in
Toronto Prior to this accident, Toronto airport had been closed for a short period due to the high winds
and storm activity that day. It had recently reopened, but the decision to reopen the airport did not
mean landings were safe and the position of the Canadian authorities was (as always in such cases)
that landings were at the pilot's discretion. In the light of what happened, the general opinion was that
it would have been safer to divert to another airport. A PIREP report means a report from another
pilot. Controllers have meteorological information to pass on to pilots, but the final decision to land,
as well as the responsibility for this decision, always rests with the pilot. Before taking the decision
that a landing can take place safely, a pilot will often wish to solicit the opinion of another pilot who
has recently landed.

Pilots have several sources of weather and environmental information, that´s why they can
make a sweeping weather check – is a check for the weather that covers a wide area using weather
reports from various sources and weather centers:

 ATIS: Automatic Terminal Information Service. A regularly updated, pre-recorded message

providing pilots with information about the conditions at a given time. The report is identified
by a sequence of letters (kilo, lima, mike). The information in ATIS is absolutely critical for
a flight, especially for take-off and landing. It determines the runway in use, any special
precautions – de-icing, aircraft anti-icing, runway length required-, the conditions of climb-
out, IFR (instrument) or VFR (visual) flight and expectations about the way the aircraft will
 METAR: Meteorological Airport Reports. It is a weather report from an airport or weather
station often used by pilots as a printout during the pre-flight briefing. It can be obtained for
any location in the world and is usually updated hourly;
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 TAF: Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts. TAFs use a similar format and coding to METARs, but
provide weather forecast information, rather than current weather reports, for a five-mile
radius around a given point;
 PIREP: Pilot Reports. Weather information from official sources is complemented by live
updates from pilots about weather conditions they encounter en-route, or during approach and
 Live ATC inputs: Controllers may relay weather reports orally to fight crews, especially in
cases of fast-changing weather conditions, or reports sent in from other flight crews;
 On-board weather radar returns: Aircraft are fitted with weather radar systems using a radar
antenna in the Radome, covering a range of up to several hundred miles. Crews use the color-
coded displays provided by this system to detect the presence of weather systems – CB clouds,
thunderstorms, and resulting turbulence – in order to request a change of flightpath if
necessary; Green indicates weather of moderate intensity, yellow of heavy intensity and red
of extreme intensity. Some displays have gradations of color such as light green, dark green,
pale yellow, dark yellow, orange and red and allow the identification of different types of
 The airborne weather radar usually displayed on each pilot´s Navigation Display uses Doppler
Technology to give information about cloud formation, not the presence of other technology.
Doppler Technology is used in radar and consists in reflecting beams off objects, in this case
clouds formation, to sense their density and velocity. Pulse Dopplers are used to detect
precipitation particles, e.g. rain, ice, hail. On most controllers´ radar screens, weather returns
(is the colored patterns or outlines that are shown on the weather radar display) are suppressed
in favor of the identification and position of aircraft under their control.

The seriousness of weather is generally reported using the following terms: smooth to light,
light to moderate, moderate to severe, and extreme.

Weather information is transmitted in a pre-established sequence: location, time, wind

velocity – speed and direction, any gusting, horizontal visibility in kilometers or meters – US it is in
miles and feet, cloud cover at different altitudes in feet, temperature, dew point, altimeter setting, and
sometimes duration of the validity. It is usually transmitted orally, but also textually using a set of
international symbols.

Environmental threats are dangers to air traffic caused by natural factors specially the weather
other natural phenomena, e.g. volcanic eruptions, and wildlife, e.g. bird strikes. Environmental and
Weather conditions that may affect the safety of the operation.
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 Minor inconveniences: mist, rain, drizzle
 Serious causes for caution: ice, wake turbulence, hail, gusting wind, bird activity, windshear
 Serious enough to cancel flights: volcanic ash clouds, thunderstorms, sandstorms

Environmental phenomena may have the following effects on aircraft movements:

 The ability to land and take-off - poor horizontal and vertical visibility;
 The choice of the runway in use for departures and arrivals – wind velocity;
 Challenging approaches and hard touchdowns – crosswinds, gusting and windshear;
 Change of flightpath, deviations, flying to alternates – CBs, thunderstorms;
 Aquaplaning and increased landing distances – wet, icy or snow-covered surfaces
 Increased aircraft weight, impaired flight control movements – freezing conditions
 Damage to the windshield, Radome, leading edges – hailstorms;
 Structural damage and effect on electrical components – lightning;
 Damage to the engines, engine failure – hailstones ingestion, volcanic ash;
 Longer flight times – headwinds;
 Shorter flight times – tailwinds;

Wind: Forecast wind strength and direction is a major factor in flight planning, and the
navigation will need to be constantly updated to take into account the actual wind experienced.
Aircraft should, as far as possible, land into the wind. Crosswinds can make landings much more
difficult but they may be unavoidable at an airport, which has only one runway, or two or more
parallel runways. Shift is a change of wind direction. A gust is a sudden rush of wind. A squall is a
sudden, violent wind often with rain. If wind gusts, it means it accelerates momentarily. Changing or
threatening wind conditions require ATC to provide flight crews with up-to-date wind velocity reports
and any pilot reports of windshear.

Downdraught: is a sudden vertical descending movement of a mass f air.

Windshear: Another danger presented by wind is the phenomenon known as windshear.

Wind shear is a change in wind velocity at right angle to the wind direction. It is difficult to detect
because it is very sudden and difficult to see. This occurs when two winds moving in opposite
directions meet.. While windshear can occur at any altitude, an airplane is most vulnerable when it is
coming in to land. Windshear is particularly dangerous during the final approach and touchdown,
because the effect on the aircraft´s airspeed, rate of descent and vertical movement can be so sudden
and unexpected at a phase of flight, when the aircraft is using reduced engine power, it is close to the
ground and its flight control surfaces have less effect. The result can be severe turbulence and a loss
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of control, the aircraft will suddenly lose height and airspeed (undershoot windshear), and so it will
touch down short of the runway; or it will perform a hard landing; or it will gain height and airspeed
(overshoot windshear) and it will touch down late on the runway; it will be blown away from its
flightpath on the runway centerline. Given the aircraft´s built-in inertia and the response time of the
engines and flight controls, the pilot´s remedial action may not prevent the aircraft from touching
down even if he / she wishes to go around. When windshear can be predicted, it will be less
threatening than when it occurs suddenly and the flight crew are unprepared. Controllers will do their
best to warn pilots of any known wind shear activity near their airport. A pilot who is forewarned of
this danger will almost always choose to go around, that is to climb and try to reposition for another
attempt at landing, or to divert to another airport. Airports use radar and wind sensor systems, some
aircraft have wind shear detection systems, pilots can request PIREPS reports to avoid facing
windshear activity.

Microburst: is another danger to aircraft attempting to land. It is a very localized, descending

wind, which hits the ground and spreads out. It is extremely dangerous for landing aircraft as it causes
an increase in airspeed as the aircraft enters it, followed immediately by a decrease in airspeed as the
aircraft exits the microburst. They are severe cases of downdraught.

Low visibility: Air traffic can come to a complete halt at a fogbound airport. IFR traffic can
usually take off reasonably safely in fog, but the problem is that landings may not be authorized until
the fog lifts, thus effectively paralyzing the airport (no inbound aircraft eventually means no outbound
aircraft). This is especially the case for smaller airports. The regulations concerning landing in low
visibility depend on the navigational aids available at a particular airport, the type of aircraft involved
and the qualifications of the pilot. At a well-equipped airport, it is possible to and even if the pilot
cannot see the runway beforehand. For smaller airports and less well-equipped aircraft, visibility will
need to be above landing limits that is there is a minimum altitude at which the pilot will need to be
able to see the runway. There will also be a stricter requirement for RVR (Runway Visual Range),
which is visibility along the runway once a pilot has landed. The effects of poor visibility can be
attenuated by the use of ILS approaches and ground movement radars.

Minima are the lower limits of visibility for a given aircraft depending on its onboard
equipment. Below minimums means that the vertical and horizontal visibility is less than that for
which the airport, aircraft and crew are certified.

Types of clouds:

 cirrus, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus (above 20.000 feet)

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 altocumulus, altostratus (between 6.500 and 20.000 feet)
 stratocumulus and altostratus (up to 6.500 feet)
 nimbostratus and cumulus (up to 10.000 feet)
 cumulonimbus are vertically developing clouds that generate severe thunderstorms and may
rise as high as 40.000 feet.
 Stratiform cloud is a stratified or layered cloud
 Cumuliform cloud is made of large aggregate or mass of cloud.

Low ceiling: Ceiling is the bottom of the lowest level of clouds. Low ceiling refers to the
height of the first layer of cloud cover. If clouds have smooth tops, it means there are no sudden
variations, movements or irregularities.

Ice and snow: Ice or snow on a runway present obvious dangers to aircraft as they greatly
increase the possibility of a runway overrun, that is skidding of the runway. Even worse, they could
slow down an aircraft during its take-off roll. The airport authorities have a major responsibility either
to keep runways clear of ice or snow, or to close a runway in conditions where this becomes
impossible. Drifting snow is snow that has been blown by the wind to form a deep deposit. Snow
flurries are sudden rapid falls of snow. The effects of runways contaminated by ice and snow can be
reduced by snow removal using snowploughs and by pilots planning for longer landing distances.

Icing: flights usually encounter icing at relatively low altitudes (from ground level up to
10.000 feet – 13.000 feet), e.g. when flying in freezing conditions. Once they are above dense clouds
formation, there is little humidity in the air although temperatures are often as low as -50ºC. Ice
building up (ice accumulation) on an aircraft's wings can grew reduce the available lift and thus cause
it to stall, aircraft losing lift and entering an uncontrollable dive. Ice formation on the wings,
stabilizers and flight control surfaces increases the weight of the aircraft, changes the center of
gravity, may alter or invalidate airspeed and altitude data by blocking the probes, and reduces the
efficiency, or even prevents the movement of the flight controls. the accretion rate refers to the speed
that the ice is accumulating.

Before an aircraft attempts to take off in icing conditions, it needs to be de-iced as reduced
lift at take-off could be catastrophic. Special vehicles exist at airports for this routine operation and it
needs to be performed just prior to take-off as ice can build up again quickly.

Ice in flight can be removed or prevented by the aircraft´s de-icing and anti-icing systems.
Aircraft are equipped with anti-icing and de-icing systems, which are electrical for the cockpit
windows and air data probes; and pneumatic (hot air bleed) for the wing and engine cowl leading
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edges or using deformable rubber boots on some turboprop aircraft. Usually turboprop aircraft can´t
generate enough spare hot air to de-ice the wing leading edges, so they use another system that
consists in inflating and deflating a rubber chamber running along the wing leading edges in order to
detach any ice that has built up.

The probe heat is the electrical anti-icing of the air data probes (pitot probe, static ports, angle
of attack sensors, outside air temperature probes) which are located on the outside of the forward
fuselage. If the probes become obstructed with ice, the flight crew can lose all altitude, airspeed and
angle of attack information and the computers that receive this information will generate erroneous

For smaller aircraft, the risks are higher and pilots will need to avoid exposing their airplanes
to icing conditions when in the air. If they notice ice building up on the wings, they will need to
quickly descend to a warmer altitude where the ice will melt.

The freezing level is the altitude at which the temperature in the atmosphere drops to 0º

Rime icing is the most common form of ice. Rime ice forms when small supercooled drops of
water freeze on contact with a sub-zero surface. The ice deposit is rough and crystalline. Rime ice
forms on the leading edges and can affect aerodynamic characteristics of wings and engine air intakes;
it also considerably increases the weight of the aircraft.

Storms: CBs or cumulonimbus is a type of cloud that is high, dense and generates storm
activity, it is the type of cloud that represents the greatest threat for aviation and which crews try to
avoid. These dense clouds are often the sign of intense electrical storm activity and violent up and
downdraughts, which can destabilize the aircraft and damage its electronic equipment.

Pilots will do what they can to avoid flying through a storm. Normally if there is a storm
around an airport, controllers will warn pilots that take-off is at their own risk and this is risk that
pilots are trained not to take. For the pilot, the passengers and the airline, the financial costs of a delay
are clearly to be preferred to the safety risks in choosing to take off. When an airplane is coming in
to land, a decision not to land at that airport and divert elsewhere should be based on exactly the same
principle of safety first. Because aircraft may aquaplane and suffer a runway excursion, that´s to say,
aircraft´s wheels are partially supported by standing water on the runway and not fully contact with
the runway surface so that braking and steering are inefficient. No pilot should take a risk, but it is
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important to recognize that the temptation to do so does exist, as landing at another airport will be
inconvenient for the passengers and crew as well as costly for the airline.

Human factors training alerts pilots to the dangers of being taken by such considerations.
Pilots are frequently alerted to the dangers of storms on route and do their best to navigate around
them. Occasionally though, they can find themselves in the middle of a storm. Passengers would
experience severe turbulence in such a case. So in case of storms departing aircraft should wait until
conditions have improved, and that arriving aircraft should either go around or divert to another
airport. Thunderstorms can often be avoided by flying around them.

Lightning: There is also the danger of being struck by lightning. Most modern aircraft can
resist such a strike but it is a rather frightening experience for the passengers.

Hailstorms: is precipitation in the form of compacted ice and snow. Being caught in a
hailstorm can cause structural damage to the aircraft, depending on how big the hailstones are. Flight
crews are particularly alert to this danger.

Icing conditions in clouds may be avoided by requesting a higher flight level and flying above
the clouds.

Drizzle: is very light but constant rain. It affects pilots´ visibility.

Haze: is fine dust, fumes or vapor causing lack of transparency in the air. Fumes are chemical
or industrial gases.

Shallow mist: is a thin layer of mist near the ground, above which aircraft climbs quickly.

Wake turbulence: is a downdraught caused by the movement of a large aircraft through the
air, that´s to say, is a severe disturbance of the air caused by the passage of an aircraft though a mass
of air. For this reason, ATC usually provides additional horizontal separation, about three minutes
after the passage of particularly large aircraft flying at the same trajectory during climb when aircraft
are using full thrust.

Turbulence: turbulence may cause passengers moving into the cabin to be thrown around and
injured: concussion, broken ribs and bruising are quite common in this case. If the injuries are serious,
the flight crew will have to request diversion to the nearest suitable airport so that the injured
passengers can be cared for. The crew will need to describe the nature, extent and seriousness of the
injuries. Cabin attendants will provide first aid. Buffeting is the effects of being knocked around by
turbulence or the rapid oscillation of flight control surfaces. Light chop refers to mild turbulence.
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Clear Air Turbulence: CAT is significant turbulence where no clouds are present, normally
at high altitude near a Jetstream.

Scattered shower or clouds: are distributed irregularly.

Volcanic ash: ash clouds from erupting volcanoes causes a lot of disruption to aviation. The
clouds rise to high altitudes, are carried long distances by prevailing winds and contain abrasive
materials and moisture in the form of ice which, when ingested by jet engines, damages the leading
edges of the blades and obstructs the airflow resulting in engine malfunction or shutdown. In addition
the dust may enter the air conditioning system distributing toxic gases and reducing visibility inside
the cockpit and cabin. Besides volcanic ash may obstruct the air data probes, which will affect the
information about airspeed, altitude and attitude for the pilots´ instruments. Flight crews need to
communicate with the ATC to avoid or escape from ash clouds (pilots should declare emergency,
then perform a 180º turn and don the oxygen masks to avoid intoxication), I mean, flying outside
contaminated airspace. ATC should inform the flight crew of the reported location and altitude of the
volcanic ash cloud and its direction of movement. They should provide the flight crew with a new
route to avoid the area. They should also alert other aircraft in the area and coordinate any changes
of flight plans resulting from avoidance maneuvers or deviations to alternates caused by serious
damage or engine failure.

Black hole phenomenon: spatial disorientation and erroneous perception of altitude caused
by a dark approach area and bright lights beyond the active runway.