Ask the Captain: What goes into landing a plane on an icy, slippery runway?

2020-01-09 06:00:06

Question: Recently, there were at least three incidents of planes skidding off runways or taxiways. In freezing conditions, with ice on the runway, how safe is the anti-skid braking system on a modern jet?

Answer: Though landing in icy conditions is challenging, it can be done safely. 

The modern jet’s anti-skid system is very good. I have landed on ice-covered runways many times using the anti-skid system to safely stop the airplane. Pilots listen carefully to other landing airplanes for descriptions of the stopping ability on the runway. In addition to the wheel brakes on most jets and turboprops, the pilots can use reverse thrust to assist in decelerating the airplane. Once the aircraft is slowed to taxi speed, pilots must carefully and slowly maneuver to the gate.

Airports do all they can to keep the runways plowed and swept, which is essential to flight operations. Pilots are informed when the last plowing and sweeping took place, so they can judge the braking conditions. Airports that receive substantial snowfall during winter months are often effective in removing snow and keeping the airport operational. 

Airports that frequently see snow are skilled at keeping runways and taxiways clear – thus keeping the show on the road.
Airports that frequently see snow are skilled at keeping runways and taxiways clear – thus keeping the show on the road.

The limiting factor in an ice-covered runway is often the crosswind. During the initial rollout during landing, a strong crosswind can push the airplane sideways. Pilots are careful to assess the amount of crosswind before landing in these conditions.

Runway conditions can change quickly, requiring judgment and experience by the pilot to determine whether it is safe to proceed. This system has worked very well for many decades to ensure the safety of landing aircraft.

Tuesday:  Jet skids off runway in Istanbul, closes down Sabiha Gokcen Airport Airport temporarily

Sunday:  WestJet plane slides off runway in Canada amid winter weather conditions

Saturday: Delta plane carrying 107 passengers slides off taxiway at Wisconsin’s Austin Straubel airport

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ask the Captain: How do they prevent planes from sliding off runways?

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