Can Airplanes Fly in Rain? You Will Be Surprised!

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Has the weather drastically changed during your planned takeoff time, and you are there wondering if can airplanes fly in rain? Most of the time, we cancel activities because of rainy weather conditions. But does that mean you should cancel your flight plans because it is raining?

The simple and short answer is modern airplanes can fly in the rain, so there is no need for flight cancellations. However, there are several more things you need to know. Keep reading, and I will share more information. Let us start, shall we?

Airplanes Fly in Rain

Explanation of Instrument Flight Rules

IFR regulations permit the operation of appropriately equipped aircraft in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The IFR is in ICAO Annex 2: Rules of the Air, Chapter 5: Instrument Flight Rules.

Aircraft pilots must adhere to certain protocols when flying in low-visibility environments, such as fog, clouds, or other similar phenomena. IFR relies on the pilot’s skill in flying the plane using navigational aids and instruments, such as GPS and radio beacons.

For a pilot to fly under IFR, they must possess additional training and certification than what is required for flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR).

Can Airplanes Fly in Rain. Explanation of Instrument Flight Rules

Purpose of IFR

I believe you are now familiar with what IFR is. It serves several purposes, such as:

  • Ensuring safety when there is zero visibility.
  • Provides rules and procedures that are required to be followed by pilots as part of low visibility procedures.
  • It facilitates pilots to fly standard routes, thus reducing fuel consumption and flight time.
  • It allows for more efficient use of airspace.
Purpose of IFR

For one to fly IFR, one must have:

  • An IFR-worthy aircraft.
  • An IFR flight planning.
  • A crew with Instrument Ratings that meet recency requirements

An IFR-worthy aircraft must meet the conditions under 14 CFR § 91.205.

VFR vs IFR

VFRs are those sections of the FAA regulations that address visual flight missions. You might call them the “visual flight rules.” As for the IFR, I had previously described them as the rules pertaining to “instrument flight rules.” The fundamentals of aircraft operation are laid out in these sets of rules, which can be seen in FAR Part 91.

I have made the comparison table below to help you easily understand the difference between VFR and IFR.

Feature

VFR

IFR

Flexibility:

More flexible as they do not need to be in contact with air traffic control or on a flight plan.

Must be in contact with ATC and be on an IFR flight plan.

Restrictions:

Minimum 2,000 feet horizontally from the clouds, 1,000 feet above the clouds, and 500 feet below the clouds.

Fewer restrictions.

Advantages:

Sightseeing and accessibility.

Less restrictions, nighttime flights, and commercial opportunities.

I hope it’s clear now on the comparison of VFR vs IFR. Let us now look at the impact of rain on airplanes.

Rain’s Effect on Aircraft

Rain hardly ever interferes with aviation industry operations, particularly with modern planes (privately owned) and airlines that normally fly beyond the weather. If an aircraft has the right instrumentation and automatic control systems for the weather, it may even take off and land in severe snow, rain, or heavy fog.

On the other hand, thunderstorms and strong winds, which frequently coincide with rain, have the potential to:

  • Affect aircraft operations by causing delays.
  • Cause airline flight cancellations.
Rain's Effect on Aircraft

Can Airplanes Fly in Rain?

My flight has been delayed more than once due to bad weather conditions. But to answer the question, yes, some planes fly in the rain. Let me explain how contemporary commercial and private planes are prepared to manage various weather situations, from icy temperatures and low clouds to torrential downpours and high winds.

Can Regular Airline Fly in Heavy Rain?

I remember one day, my flight was scheduled to take off at 2 pm, and around 1.30 pm, it started raining. I wondered, would they cancel my flight or will the rains just result in delays? Luckily we boarded the plane and took off without any problems.

The answer to whether regular airline pilots can take off when there is heavy rain is yes. Today, most modern airplanes fly in the rain. They are designed to operate in harsh weather conditions like snow and rain. However, it all depends on the pilot’s skills and the plane’s capabilities.

Can Regular Airline Fly in Heavy Rain?
Airplanes fly in the rain all the time. There isn’t a measurement for “how much rain is allowable.” Rather, the concern is extreme crosswinds, wind shear, downdrafts, or thunderstorms in the area. Those are things that can be dangerous and would cause a delay or diversion until conditions improve if the situation is severe enough. Andrew Silverman-Principal PM, Azure Hardware Architecture, Microsoft

Can Commercial Airplanes Fly in Severe Weather Conditions?

Commercial aircraft, specifically intended for accommodating a substantial number of people, are equipped with the necessary capabilities to manage diverse weather situations effectively. Commercial planes undergo extensive testing and certification procedures to guarantee their effectiveness and safety.

Can Commercial Airplanes Fly in Severe Weather Conditions?

Commercial planes’ capability to do takeoffs and landings in unfavorable weather conditions depends on variables such as:

  • Wind shear;
  • Freezing rain;
  • Low clouds;
  • Zero visibility.

I remember during my commercial flight, there was a flight crew comprising proficient pilots and cabin attendants. They had extensive knowledge of the procedures and protocols required to operate in adverse weather conditions. Thanks to their proficiency and knowledge, we overcame the severe turbulence and landed safely despite the harsh weather conditions.

Commercial Airplanes Fly in Severe Weather Conditions
Note: Severe storms and extreme weather conditions can lead to diversion or flight cancellations to prioritize the safety of passengers.

Can Heavy Rain Affect Aircraft Operations of Small Planes and Private Jets?

When bad weather strikes, private pilots flying smaller planes have more things to consider. If you plan to take a small aircraft, you should know that small planes are safer now because of current technology and avionics. The small aircraft, however, can’t compete with commercial airliners.

Can Heavy Rain Affect Aircraft Operations of Small Planes and Private Jets?

I once boarded a private jet, and from experience, I can tell you that private planes are not up to the task when it comes to enduring extreme weather conditions. Air traffic control and ground personnel are generally the first to provide private pilots with up-to-date weather information/ aviation weather data and direction during inclement weather.

Since the operations were affected due to the heavy rain, my private pilot had the option of changing our flight schedules, postponing it till a safer time, or taking a different route.

Note: It is up to the pilot to weigh the risks associated with flying in severe weather, considering the plane’s capabilities and the current conditions, such as poor visibility. The primary concern, though, should be safety.

Role of Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Crew

The traffic controllers and flight crew play important roles during the flight. Their functions include:

Role of Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Crew
  • Providing instructions and clearance to pilots.
  • They maintain records of aircraft communications and movements. They also keep records of clearances, flight plans, or any emergencies.
  • They monitor the aircraft’s movement together with other aircraft nearby.
  • They act as emergency providers in case of medical emergencies, engine failures, or any other emergency.
  • They manage the air traffic, literally. They do this by minimizing congestion and delays.
  • The controllers reduce the impact of inclement weather on operations by coordinating arrivals and departures, modifying flight paths, and sequencing planes.

As you can see, the controller plays a huge and vital role; thus, they should be highly skilled and professional. Let us now focus on flying under adverse weather conditions.

Flying When There Are Thunderstorms

Is it safe for planes to fly when there are thunderstorm clouds? This is the question that I kept asking myself as I sat in the airport’s departure lounge, looking at the dark, forming clouds on the horizon.

I am afraid of lightning, but did you know, according to statistics, commercial transport passenger planes are hit by lightning an average of one or two times a year? The scenario is not as you would imagine (a plane being torn in two parts). So how is it and why?

It all comes down to the design of the plane. Modern planes are built with modern technology, making it possible to withstand lightning and thunderstorms. They make the tail and tips of the wings extra strong. This way, the thunderstorms tend to be harmless to the plane.

Flying When There Are Thunderstorms

Can a Plane Take Off When There Are Thunderstorms?

Planes can fly through thunderstorms safely, but things are quite different when it comes to taking off. In most cases, pilots and controllers would delay the flight if there are thunderstorms. This is because take-off is the trickiest part of flying, and the ground speed of taking off will be affected.

Flying in Icing Conditions

When ice forms on a wing, it can disrupt the wing’s aerodynamics, leading to disastrous results such as:

  • A dramatic drop in lift.
  • An increase in drag.

Modern aircraft are built to endure and thrive in extremely cold and snowy environments, which is a major relief. The state of the runway and the absence of ice on the aircraft before takeoff should be the principal concerns in the event of icing conditions.

Flying in Icing Conditions

Possible Solutions

To avoid problems with ice and snow when in the air, many planes carry de-icing equipment. Even though de-icing technology has come a long way, flying operations should still be wary of freezing rain and other similar meteorological events. So, pilots steer clear of areas and altitudes with icing conditions by using:

  • Weather radar,
  • Visually inspecting the wing and
  • Reporting from other planes.
Note: Snow isn’t as bad as ice and only becomes a problem during landing and takeoff. Runways covered with snow make landing more difficult.

Is It Safe to Fly in the Clouds?

Aircraft usually do not encounter problems when flying in clouds, even low ones. While clouds in and of themselves pose no danger, their reduced visibility could prove problematic.

Flight operations necessitating visibility are aircraft taxiing, taking off, and landing. A runway could be in danger if clouds are low in the sky or even touching the ground in that area.

Is It Safe to Fly in the Clouds?

Is It Safe to Fly in the Fog?

Patches of fog are common in remote locations. For instance, there may be dense fog at one nearby airport and clear skies at another. Fog can affect all kinds of aircraft, possibly causing delays.

Is It Safe to Fly in the Fog?
  • The autopilot on the majority of commercial aircraft is capable of landing the aircraft without the need to require forward visibility.
  • When operating an aircraft manually during takeoff and taxi, visibility becomes increasingly problematic on the ground.
  • An airport will implement Low Visibility Procedures (LVPs) if forward visibility drops to an unsafe level.

These protocols lessen the number of planes taking off and taxiing, which increases safety margins and decreases the likelihood of accidents caused by poor visibility.

Is It Safe to Fly During Windy Conditions

A plane is not inherently unsafe when there is wind. On the other hand, the direction and speed may make takeoff and landing difficult.

Is It Safe to Fly During Windy Conditions
  • A tailwind causes an airplane to accelerate through the air, increasing its speed.
  • When there is a headwind, the plane “struggles” against the wind, slowing down and increasing the distance traveled.
  • Wind-related time variations are more noticeable on longer transatlantic flights.

Airlines usually orient themselves to face the wind to maximize performance during landing and takeoff. Safe takeoff and landing can be more challenging in the presence of a crosswind. Airlines set operational limitations in response to this, considering the wind component traversing the runway (i.e., the crosswind).

In Case of Inclement Weather, What Should You Do?

The FAA reports that airlines lose billions of dollars annually due to flight delays caused by inclement weather, which includes:

  • Fog;
  • Thunderstorms;
  • Wind shear;
  • Icing.
In Case of Inclement Weather, What Should You Do?

On average, these weather conditions account for 70 % of all flight delays. To keep air traffic moving with as little interruption as possible, airports typically follow these procedures:

  • Ground delays: These are mostly used to manage or ease capacity at the destined arrival airport.
  • Ground stops: necessary to make tracking much easier, especially in crowded airspace.
  • Adverse weather avoidance plans: Necessary in places where they expect unique weather phenomena.

My Personal Flying Experience During Harsh Weather Conditions

Several weeks back, I was en route to the Orlando airport during a downpour unlike any I had ever encountered. A moment came when I had to stop my vehicle since the road ahead was completely obscured. I mean, there was poor visibility! I couldn’t stop checking my flight status as I neared the airport, wondering if it had been delayed or canceled.

“This crazy storm makes it impossible for them to fly out,” I told myself. The rain continued its relentless downpour as I entered the terminal to complete my check-in. I paused at the enormous screens to see whether any flights had been canceled or were experiencing delays. Despite the heavy winds and violent thunderstorms, no flights have been canceled yet. However, I did observe that multiple aircraft were delayed.

Other People’s Experience

There are several reviews I have come across regarding people who have flown while raining. Let me share them with you.

Joe said that:

In most rainy conditions airplanes can take off and fly with no problems. This is true of even smaller general aviation aircraft. However, certain weather conditions, especially Thunderstorms and intense weather (hurricanes, heavy rain, strong turbulence, widespread icing, etc), are strenuously avoided by any and all aircraft if at all possible. Joe Shelton, Author, Pilot (Comm. MEL/SEL/MES/SES, Inst), Aircraft Owner

Rex also had something to say:

According to Rex, Airplanes fly in heavy rain very well in most cases, unless there is associated wind problems or icing. The airflow over the windshield is usually adequate to remove the rain so you can see and rain itself does not change the lift produced by the wings. If you are in IFR conditions you are not looking out the window as you cannot see anything anyway. Landings will be affected as a wet runway is more slippery and braking is not as effective. Rex Rexroat - Land lord / Home construction /Maintenance

FAQs

Is It Safe for Planes to Fly in the Rain?

Yes, it is safe for planes to fly in the rain. Rain is not dangerous to planes; they can easily fly through the rain. In case of heavy rain, you will require a modern plane with a specialized pilot.

Does Flight Get Cancelled Due to Rain?

Flight cancellations due to rain are not common. Mostly, the rain does not interfere with the flying of an aircraft. Thus, a plane can easily take off and land safely.

What Kind of Weather Cancels Flights?

The weather that can cause a flight to be canceled includes wind, precipitation, lightning, reduced visibility or fog, lightning, or storms.

Can Airplanes Fly in Thunderstorms?

Yes, airplanes can fly in thunderstorms. The modern planes are designed to handle rain droplets, lightning strikes, and other harsh conditions. The pilots also have the skills and knowledge to handle such situations.

Conclusion

That is all I had on whether airplanes can fly in the rain. To sum things up, I have highlighted that airplanes can fly in the rain as rain is not dangerous to the planes.

However, keep in mind that several factors may make the rain dangerous. Let us say the rain is accompanied by severe thunderstorms, fog, and strong wind. In this case, a pilot under the IFR will be required to navigate the plane and land it safely.

What experiences have you experienced while flying in the rain? Talk to me in the comment section below.

Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.

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