The Private Jet Pilot’s Considerations
Ever wondered why some private aircraft can takeoff or land at a particular airport and time while others can not? Many factors influence a pilot's decision when filing a flight plan including: aircraft performance, operational control procedures, weather, altitude of the airport and weight of the passengers, crew and fuel. These factors make it difficult to predict flight times, fuel stops and airport selection. I have listed below each category and how it may affect your particular flight.
Not only does each aircraft type have its own performance characteristics, but each individual plane may have different weights, modifications and operating procedures. For example: a typical Citation II has a shorter range than one with a High Gross Kit modification, which allows it to take off and land with additional fuel onboard. Also, different avionics can affect the weight and balance of an aircraft. So, it is entirely possible for one Citation II jet to have a range of 1,000nm while another can travel 1,900nm on the same day and route.
Operational Control Procedures
There are over 3,000 FAA certified aircraft operators in the country, and each follows operational procedures which the FAA and third-party auditing firms approve and routinely review to hold aircraft operators accountable.
Wind, precipitation and temperature will affect an aircraft's performance characteristics especially when flying into or out of airports with a runway length less than 6,000 feet. If the runway is wet for example, the aircraft may have to reduce the amount of fuel it has on board to compensate for the slower stopping speed. Or, a high temperature which thins the air may reduce the aircraft's ability to climb. Pilots speak with a certified weather briefer prior to each flight to help them plan accordingly. Since weather is variable, an original itinerary that forecasts a direct flight might adjust to include a fuel-stop. On the other hand, strong tailwinds may permit a direct flight when a fuel-stop was initially planned.
High altitude offers unique challenges to pilots as the air is thinner and requires faster takeoff and landing speeds. Surrounding mountains pose additional challenges, which is why, for example, Aspen Airport (ASE) has instituted a curfew between dusk and dawn to increase safety margins.
Weight is one of the more controllable performance variables and is typically adjusted to compensate for weather and altitude. The number of passengers, crew members, baggage and fuel are all estimated prior to flights in order for the crew to forecast a safe takeoff and landing.
Most private aircraft operators incur additional costs when they have to delay, re-route or make an additional fuel stop. So, when a crew recommends an alternate, you can be assured they are looking out for your safety.
Nathan McKelvey is the CEO, President and Founder of Jets International – http://www.jets.com - the world’s first and largest private jet charter auction. In 2005, INC. magazine named Jets International the 66th fastest growing private company in the county in their prestigious “TOP 500” list.