The Importance of Accurate Runway Condition Reporting To Winter Flying!

by Rick Braunig
Manager, Aviation Safety & Enforcement
MnDOT Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2020

As I’m writing this article, the first snowfalls of the season are coming down and I’ve only started my snow blower for practice. As you are reading this, the snow probably doesn’t seem as pretty, but spring will come.

If you have been flying all winter, I’m hoping you have seen great reporting of airport conditions by our wonderful airport managers… the RCAM (Runway Condition Assessment Matrix) numbers starting to translate into meaningful information. We like to watch the system as a whole as storms move through. If the airports with lots of staff and equipment are reporting low numbers (1-ice or 2-greater than 1/8-inch of water or slush), I would be suspicious of their neighbors who don’t have an RCAM report.

If you look for NOTAMs at: https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/PilotWeb/ and use the “Radius Search” feature, you can see all the airports in your target area.

Runway Condition reports all start with FICON (Field Condition), so you can skip through those tower light outages pretty quickly. When in doubt, reach out and call the airport manager.

Be careful of early morning departures. Airport managers have been rumored to sleep at night and may not have updated the NOTAMs from an overnight snow. Also realize that at many of the smaller airports, the same person plows both the city and the airport. They may not be asleep, but struggling to meet competing demands. In many cases, those people aren’t even pilots.

If that sounds like your home base, we would encourage you to get involved. Pilots cannot issue NOTAMs, but they can help the authorized individuals to be aware of the conditions. If you can swing by the airport and you notice that the conditions don’t match the NOTAMs, give the airport manager a call.

See how I’m trying to get you to learn more about the RCAM system? Pretty crafty of me.

For those of you who have been taking the winter off and not flying, now is a good time to start thinking about spring. Hopefully you preserved your engine for the winter. Start thinking about making a date with your mechanic to get it back in operation and giving it a once over. Might be a good time for the annual. Remember, you have been in preservation as well, so a date with the local flight instructor would be in order as well. Meantime, I’ll be praying for an early spring so we don’t have to worry about snow anymore.

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