A recent poll revealed that 60% of all pilots consider an alternate route or diversion airport when they plan a flight — that’s 40% too low. Regardless if it’s “low IFR” or “severe clear,” day or night, single engine or twin, safety demands that you always consider what you’d do when the weather doesn’t turn out as planned.
Producing Non-Deviant Behavior
Most of us learned to fly in close to ideal weather conditions. Certainly, most instructional work is done with high ceilings and good visibility. Put yourself in the place of your instructor pilot — isn’t it far easier to train in visual conditions.” Wouldn’t you want to avoid sending your students out solo in anything but the best weather?
Federal Air Regulation (FAR) Part 61 requires only:
- three hours of cross-country (X/C) flight training for the solo pilot before solo X/C; and
- five hours of supervised solo X/C before the Private Pilot checkride.
Applicants for the instrument rating must log only:
- 40 hours of instruction in simulated or actual Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) before being allowed to file and fly in any kind of weather; and
- no “real” IMC before earning the privilege of doing so with passengers.
Note: After earning your Private Pilot certificate or the instrument rating, you’re on your own.
Flying in and around bad weather is really a form of “on the job training.” The FARs and the Practical Test Standards require from us the barest minimum of information and experience with which to make a decision about flying in the changing atmosphere. Once certificated and rated, we’re left to our own devices, and no small amount of luck, to learn how to evaluate and fly in weather.
Piloting is nothing if not a constant correction of your own mistakes and let’s not forget those of the weather briefers. Staying active (and alive) means keeping up with the most recent information and planning for the unexpected. Some of the most trivial details are also the most important to good ‘deviant’ thinking…
- Get a preflight weather briefing before every flight — even if you’ll be staying in the traffic pattern.
- Decide beforehand what you’ll do and where you’ll go if the weather closes in at any point during your flight.
- Always track your position across the ground and look for the nearest suitable airport — knowing you’ve got 64.3 miles, 31 minutes and a 067-degree track to go until your next waypoint might not be all that useful if the weather becomes threatening. If you know where you are and where you’ll go in case of trouble at all times, you’ll have far less stress if you need to make the decision to deviate.
- Use your resources: Use your eyes, your ears (Flight Watch, Air Traffic Control, ATIS and AWOS along the way and other pilots), and whatever cockpit technology you have to keep ahead of weather trends.
- Develop and adhere to a strict set of personal weather minimums. You might not fly in Marginal VFR at night… You might not want to fly a 150-knot airplane when visibility is less than five miles; or you might accept nothing less than 1000 AGL for your cruising altitude… Whatever limits you set for yourself, be realistic, and never violate them — pushing your limits should be an automatic decision to deviate to better weather.
- Study, study, study … learn whatever you can to increase your knowledge of weather development.
Bottom Line: The FAA standards for pilot certificates and ratings don’t prepare us for the decisions we may need to make once we’re out on our own. Establish a personal set of procedures for planning and conducting a flight, which include constant awareness of your position and the location of diversion routes and airports. Develop your personal minimums, and stick to them religiously. Consider the possibility that you may need to deviate — for weather, for equipment problems or passenger problems — at any moment and during every flight.
Note: To get Alternate Airport information simply type in an airport and look it up. Then click on ‘Alternate Airports’ in the Airport Options at the top right corner of the page. Choose the radius distance you’re willing to consider and we’ll instantly provide you with a list of alternate airports and their detailed information.