bmi regional prepares for winter

  • 09th December 2014

Winter weather is all in a day’s work for airline bmi regional, as it carries thousands of passengers across its network of 20 UK and European destinations each day.

As Britain weathers gale force winds and watches the mercury drop, the Chief Executive of bmi regional explains how flight crews and operations teams do all possible to ensure that the extremes of winter weather pose don’t affect puntuality and reliability for customers who need to get home for Christmas and New Year.

bmi regional has held the title of UK’s most punctual airline for nine consecutive years and, as recently as last week, it was announced that the airline continued to be number one for punctuality – ahead of carriers including BA, EasyJet and Flybe. Making sure the airline can deal efficiently with inclement weather is a key ingredient of keeping the schedules on time, so the team at bmi regional retain their focus on on-time service through all weather conditions.

bmi regional’s all-jet fleet of 18 Embraer aircraft fly close to 100,000 kilometres a day across Europe, so there is a well-oiled machine behind the scenes ensuring that aircraft and crews are in place and ready to fly, led by bmi regional’s 24/7 operations and crewing department in Aberdeen and engineering staff located across the network. Chief Executive Cathal O’Connell explains that extreme weather is factored into the airline’s routines and procedures.

“The British love a good weather story but in truth our current bad weather is what we expect to deal with at this time of year. It’s December and storms blowing in from the Atlantic or Arctic chills are not that unusual. With aircraft travelling between the UK to Europe every day and indeed having five of our aircraft based in Scandinavia, experiencing extremes of weather is all in a day’s work for us. It might be a nice day in Aberdeen, but the aircraft may land in sub-zero temperatures in Oslo”.

“At some of our destinations in Scandinavia, the daily average temperatures rarely rises above freezing in the winter months. Both the airlines and the airports are geared up to deal with it, from aircraft de-icing to runway and taxiway snow clearing.”

All airports have made major investments in snow clearing equipment, which is readied for service in autumn and available around the clock to be deployed to keep runways and taxiways clear for aircraft. Depending on the snowfall, runway clearance can be done quickly or sometimes requires the airport to close to permit the sweeping trucks to do their job. The airport authorities all recognise the importance of getting flights away on time and certainly play their role in keeping facilities available.

One of the most fascinating parts of keeping the aircraft ready for flying is actually what happens on the ground before departure. If you’ve flown in wintry weather, you’ve probably looked out your window before take-off and seen de-icing trucks around the aircraft, spraying fluid on the wings and fuselage.

O’Connell comments: “aircraft wings are efficient aerofoils which must be kept clear of any ice or snow build up which can affect performance. So, whenever there are very cold or freezing conditions at an airport, our pilots call on the airport de-icing facility to clear the aircraft of any build-ups. De-icing fluid, a mixture of a chemical called glycol and water, is generally heated and sprayed under pressure to remove ice and snow on the aircraft”.

If snow, freezing rain or sleet is falling, anti-icing fluid is applied after the de-icing process is complete to prevent ice from forming again on the aircraft before take-off, as this has a freezing point well below zero. Anti-icing fluid also has an additive that thickens it to help it adhere to aircraft surfaces as it speeds down the runway during take-off. Aircraft are also equipped with their own systems that prevent ice from building on the wings, tail and aircraft sensors in-flight. These systems are not only important in the winter months, but also in the summer months, because at higher altitudes, the temperature is well below freezing year-round.

Cold weather operations also call for detailed planning by the airline’s operations teams. Every evening, forecasts are checked to identify where freezing conditions can be expected in the morning and action taken. For example, aircraft may be moved into hangars overnight to avoid frost build-up and de-icing services will be pre-booked for each planned flight to ensure on-time dispatch where possible. Equipment to pre-heat the aircraft cabin prior to the first boarding of the day is used regularly. The airline also takes care that its staff are also ready – bmi regional operated scheduled services within Norway earlier this year flying north of the Arctic circle so a full review of the pilot and cabin crew uniforms was carried out and new cold weather items added such as heavy jumpers.

As for the operational outlook for the coming days, O’Connell says: “We can’t promise our customers that their around the festive season will be ice-free, but you can assured the team at bmi regional will be doing all possible to ensure your flight will get you home on time”.