Why Planes Fly Differently in Cold Weather

If you’ve ever flown in a plane, you’ve probably noticed (and perhaps wondered about) that planes fly differently on cold days than on warm ones. The colder the air is, the more weight it takes to keep your plane flying.


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To help you understand why this happens and what it means for your flight experience, we’ll walk you through some of the key points.


More thrust is needed for takeoff.

The higher drag means that you need more thrust for takeoff. More thrust is also needed to maintain takeoff speed and climb speed.


It increases the weight of the aircraft, reduces its lift, and increases the drag experienced by it. Thus, it is harder to fly at higher altitudes with less dense air (less lift).


Engines work harder at higher temperatures, producing less thrust at lower and greater thrust at higher temperatures (denser air).


As we all know, planes can’t fly in space where there is no atmosphere! If you’re ever on your plane and it starts to feel like the engines are straining to gain altitude, this is probably why. 


The air is getting thinner, and there’s less lift. But then, you should buckle up because things are about to get bumpy!


Engine icing may occur.

Ice crystals in the air can build up on an engine and cause engine failure. So you must check for ice before takeoff, especially during colder weather. 


Many planes are equipped with deicing equipment that melts away any ice from their wings or tail fins to prevent this from happening.


Deicing equipment includes heated surfaces inside the plane, such as exhaust pipes. It could also contain chemical sprays that prevent ice from forming in the first place.


Icy conditions present more challenges.

Updrafts and downdrafts are more common when temperatures drop below freezing because cold air contains more moisture than warm air. As we know by now: moisture + friction = clouds! 


Temperature changes don’t cause turbulence itself; rather, it’s caused by wind shear). But you’re still much more likely to encounter it if there’s precipitation in your area, too—especially raindrops or snowflakes falling from above onto your plane window!


Planes have a higher takeoff weight.

A plane’s takeoff weight is determined by how much fuel you load into its tanks before takeoff. It would help if you also considered your cargo load. 


That includes all personnel who are going aboard and equipment required for flight. All of these things must be accounted for when calculating takeoff weight.


They impact how much runway distance you need to get airborne safely and comfortably—and without running out of gas halfway through!


Turbulence is more common.

That’s because the air is denser and drier. Also, the friction between it and the aircraft’s wings slows down the flight speed, which causes turbulence.


In addition to being more likely to be encountered at lower altitudes, turbulence can also be more severe when flying at high altitudes over cold areas. That’s because there’s less oxygen available for combustion inside your engine. 


So if you’re going through a cloud bank with a lot of ice crystals (which means there’s not much water vapor), then you’ll have less protection from lightning strikes caused by static buildup on your plane’s surface area. 


And since icy conditions usually accompany freezing temperatures, aircraft systems may freeze up faster than usual when flying through these clouds. Thus, your heating systems may be less effective than normal or fail altogether!



Although it may seem counterintuitive, flying in cold weather can be safer than in warm weather. The key is to stay alert and know your risks to plan accordingly. 


If you’re planning a flight in winter or want to brush up on your knowledge about aviation safety, keep these facts in mind!


Call Knisley Welding Aircraft Exhaust System today at  (800) 522-6990 (toll-free) to schedule your exhaust repair, and we’ll make it easy for you. You may also reach us at