Fog is a challenge for all airlines. It reduces visibility around airports, meaning pilots simply can’t see enough to land safely. And that can cause some big delays.
At Qantas, we have our own in-house meteorologist team to help us manage all weather-related events, including fog.
They’re constantly monitoring conditions at every Qantas port, examining the weather patterns and providing forecasts in the days, hours and even minutes leading up to each departure.
Our flight planning team then decides whether extra fuel should be loaded onto the aircraft, in case it has to circle over a fog-bound airport (if conditions don’t improve by the time it arrives overhead) or divert to another port (if the fog is particularly stubborn).
With our rollout of onboard Wi-Fi, real time weather tracking is sent to pilots inflight via their iPads.
For safety reasons, aircraft have to be spaced further apart on the runway when there’s reduced visibility, so that slows down the landing rate compared with a clear day.
Fog doesn’t really impact takeoffs the same way, provided there’s enough visibility for them to taxi to the runway. The ‘first wave’ of departures on a foggy morning tend to be on time. It’s the next wave of flights that can be delayed because inbound aircraft haven’t been able to land.
How come your plane landed in fog and mine didn’t?
Some planes, like our A380s, can land at major airports when the visibility is less than 100 metres and fog covers the airfield.
But our turboprop aircraft need at least 800 metres of visibility to land at in the same airport and in the same conditions. Why the difference?
It depends on the navigation equipment that’s available at each airport and the technology on the aircraft.
Newer aircraft have automatic landing capability. Some have a HUD (heads up display) in the flight deck, which gives the pilots access to necessary information without having to look down at the flight deck screens.
Larger airports have an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which is a network of antennas along the side and the end of the runway providing vertical and horizontal guidance for landing.
Some of our aircraft have GBAS (Ground Based Augmentation System) installed, which gives us an extra advantage when bad weather hits. Our Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 are guided by GBAS using satellite data to land very precisely — within one metre of the runway centre line every time.
So, when you’re delayed by fog, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that improvements in technology, and an experienced team, will be getting you to your destination as quickly and safely as possible.
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