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Question: Recently there seems to be an increase in aircraft sliding off a taxiway or runway. Are the conditions not safe enough for them to be flying or is it just a matter of the ground crew needing to do a better job of clearing the surface?

– Jonah Rifkin, Birmingham, Michigan

Answer: In very inclement weather with slick taxiways, the chances of aircraft sliding off the paved surfaces increase. It can be safe to operate the aircraft based on previous reports but still find that the taxiway is slicker than anticipated due to changing conditions.

Pilots taxi very carefully when conditions exist where sliding is possible.

Ground crews do a wonderful job of clearing snow and ice from the surfaces, but there are limits to what they can do.

I would say that it is safe and ground crews do a good job, but very occasionally an airplane slides off the paved surface. It is an inconvenience but rarely causes damage.

Q: When it snows why do crews put plugs over the jet engines? Is it to simply keep snow accumulation out?

– Drayton, Columbia, South Carolina

A: Yes, covers are installed when there is a possibility of contaminates such as ice or snow accumulating in the intake of a jet. This is done to prevent the possibility of damage from compressor blades freezing to the adjacent structure or having the engine sling ice into the compressor section during the start.

More: Snow. Ice. Freezing rain. How do pilots prep for winter weather?

Q: On extremely long flights how does the crew make allowances for poor weather at the destination airport? Transferring hundreds of passengers at alternative airports would be difficult.

– John Cunningham, Glenshaw, Pennsylvania

A: Pilots check the weather during a flight. If there is a question about the weather at the destination airport preventing the plane from landing, they will coordinate with the flight dispatcher. The dispatcher will make the necessary arrangements at the alternate airport.

Modern airliners can land in low-visibility conditions. This ability keeps passengers on schedule most of the time. In cases of thunderstorms or blizzards, disruptions do occur and can cause massive problems for airlines and passengers. During these “irregular operations” airlines try to reconstruct their schedule as quickly as they can. It is a challenge for the experienced professionals charged with this rebuilding process. They do a remarkable job.

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John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/columnist/cox/2019/02/08/plane-sliding-off-runways/2778208002/