There are two reasons why I have written this article. Firstly, a reader who completed the fear of flying survey suggested it and secondly, a passenger boarded my aircraft a few weeks ago in torrential rain, and asked me;
Have you ever flown in rain like this before? Is it safe?
Never before had I thought that rain could cause fear amongst airline passengers. But, it does. The following information should help you to understand why it is nothing to be concerned about.
It appears that the main concern with regards to flying in rain is the take-off and landing on a wet runway.
It may look as though the runway is as flat as your average road, and therefore susceptible to surface water. As this possibility enters your mind, you find yourself instantly thinking the runway is slippery and unsafe. Thoughts of aquaplaning (no pun intended) aircraft and impending doom fill your mind.
What you can’t see is that runways are designed to ensure surface water drains off via a grooved surface, therefore improving grip during and take-off landing. Further to this, constant improvements in runway design ensure safety standards are increased year by year – it’s the just in case factor once again.
In poor weather conditions (rain, snow and/or ice) Air Traffic Control receives information from pilots regarding the braking action on the runway. Normally the runway is ‘split’ into three parts, and a pilot would report braking action for each individual part – i.e. poor, average, poor.
This information is then passed on to pilots on final approach to the runway to enable them to be better prepared for poor conditions.
It’s important to note that a ‘poor, poor, poor’ braking action report does not mean the runway is unsafe, but simply ensures pilots are prepared. This may simply mean that reverse thrust is used to aid braking and slow the aircraft down quicker.
Another important note: Just as always, if at any time the runway is deemed to be unsafe it WILL NOT BE USED.
With regards to flying through rain clouds, it is not a problem. In normal circumstances these clouds are not turbulent and feel no different to flying through a standard cloud. In more severe storms the clouds may cause a few bumps, but are by no means anything to worry about.
Finally, in case you were not aware, planes are equipped with wipers allowing pilots to still see where they are going. However, due to the speed at take-off, rain usually moves off the windscreen of its own accord – just like driving a car at 100mph forces the water to move upwards and to the side.