Can Planes Fly in the Snow?


Can Planes Fly in the Snow

Ever wondered how aircraft manage to fly in heavy snowfall? Do you ever feel a sudden rush of adrenaline when you almost slip on the snow while boarding the aircraft, just before it takes off? This article aims to clarify some common misunderstandings about aircraft operations in snowy conditions and shed light on how they are successfully carried out.

Flying in the Snow

When it comes to precipitation, there are two main factors that impact an aircraft during flight:

Reduced Visibility

Visibility is affected by precipitation, with the type and intensity of the precipitation determining the extent of the impact. You can easily notice this effect when driving in rain, snow, or fog.

Commercial aircraft have the ability to operate in situations where visibility is extremely limited, although there are some cases where they are unable to land or take off. Flight delays or cancellations due to snow are typically caused by reduced visibility, rather than the snow itself.

Regrettably, the flight crew’s ability to enhance visibility is limited when flying in snowy conditions. As a result, commercial aircraft are specifically designed to operate in situations where visibility is limited. Ground stations at airports play a crucial role in helping aircraft safely approach runways even when they cannot see them. Nevertheless, there are certain limitations to these systems, and it is necessary for flight crews to have some visibility in order to see the runway during landing or takeoff.

Read Also: Can Airplanes Fly in the Rain?


When cold water droplets hit an aircraft’s surface and freeze, they create icing, which means ice starts to build up. Ice accumulation on surfaces like the wing can be quite dangerous. It disrupts the airflow and significantly decreases lift.

Since snow is similar to ice, it’s important to consider its impact on an aircraft during flight.

During flight, snow does not freeze and stick to the aircraft’s surface because it is already frozen (ice). Exciting update!

Is It Possible to Take Off in Snow?

Snow can be a safety concern for flights in certain situations.

Similar to a snowy driveway in winter, when an aircraft is on the ground during snowy conditions, the snow will accumulate wherever it lands. This accumulation poses a major problem because the snow will impact the wing’s lift production, as previously stated. The performance will be further reduced due to the increased weight of the snow.

Fortunately, there is a solution to address the issue of snow accumulation on the aircraft, unlike visibility.

Read Also: Can Planes Fly in Heavy Rain?

Aircraft Anti-Icing vs Deicing

There are two steps to solve this problem: Firstly, clear away any ice that has built up, and secondly, take measures to avoid any major ice buildup before the aircraft takes off.

The first step is accomplished by utilizing a procedure referred to as deicing.

Deicing is usually done by using hot water or a heated mixture of water and deicing fluid. The primary method used worldwide for deicing is fluids, although there are other approved methods such as infrared heat or hot air.

The deicing fluid is formulated with a glycol-water solution, a thickener for better adherence to the aircraft, and a dye to assist the ground crew during application.

The second step involves a process called anti-icing, which is similar to deicing.

Applying fluids can help prevent ice buildup. Typically, the deicing and anti-icing procedures involve using the same fluid.

The Holdover Time (HOT) refers to the duration for which the anti-ice/deice fluid effectively prevents ice and snow from sticking to an aircraft’s surface before it needs to be reapplied. Several factors can impact the Holdover Time:

  • An aircraft skin temperature below freezing.
  • Wind or jet blasts that blow the fluid off of the aircraft.
  • Heavy precipitation.
  • Wet snow, which dilutes the deice/anti-ice fluid.

These factors can significantly reduce the Holdover Time, causing the aircraft to return for another anti-ice/deice procedure, which further prolongs the delay of the flight.

Read Also: Can Planes Fly in the Stratosphere?


Dealing with heavy snowfall can be quite difficult, especially when the drive to the airport was already quite challenging. However, there’s no need to be concerned.

Rest assured that aircraft and their highly skilled crew have undergone extensive training and implemented procedures to ensure your seamless travel to any winter wonderland of your choice!

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