A pilot told us what it's like to land an airliner in a snow storm

Last week, a Delta Air Lines jet skidded off the runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport while landing in a snow storm.

Although no one was seriously injured in the accident, it did bring up numerous questions regarding the decision to land in such harsh conditions.

So what does a pilot have to deal with when the weather gets bad?

To find out, Business Insider recently spoke with Robert Mark, a commercial pilot and publisher of the aviation industry blog Jetwhine.com.


The first thing Mark would pay attention to is the intensity and direction of the wind. Using data from both his airspeed and ground-speed indicators, along with information from air traffic control, Mark would figure out whether the wind would actually prevent him from landing.

Normally, pilots prefer to land by flying into the wind. This headwind helps slow the plane.

But if there’s is a tailwind, the pilots may choose to land on the opposite end of the runway. And if the wind is blowing across the runway, the pilot may not be able to land at all. It would be too dangerous.

The runway

Once the wind has been sorted out, the pilot will check out the runway. How recently was it been plowed? How much traction is there on the tarmac? Is the runway visible?


While all this is going on, according to Mark, pilots will also consider conditions at the flight’s alternative landing points, should the scheduled location be unavailable. If they have to divert, the pilots will be in constant communication with both their airline and with air traffic control.

No soft landings

If the pilot decides to land in the snow, Mark says it wouldn’t be a gentle process.

“As I see runway, I’d plant the main [landing)]gear down as firmly I as could and then immediately slam on the brakes, air brakes, and thrust reversers to get the plane slowed down. I wouldn’t even worry about doing a soft feathery landing.”

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