If you’re wondering if planes fly in the rain, the answer is yes.
Most modern aircraft fly in all weather conditions, including rain, as rainfall on its own poses no threat to modern aircraft. During rainfall, even small planes can take off and fly without issues.
But, airlines will avoid taking off if the rain is accompanied by other weather phenomena, like thunderstorms, hurricanes, or icing.
Note that technically planes can fly under these conditions, but since it’s riskier, airlines prefer not to. Usually, when these other weather conditions accompany rainfall, airlines will postpone flights until it clears.
Table of Contents
- 1 Planes Can Take off in the Rain
- 2 Planes Can Also Fly (Cruise) in the Rain
- 3 Planes Can Usually Land in the Rain
- 4 The Dangers of Planes Flying in the Rain
- 5 How Much Rain is Considered Too Much to Fly?
- 6 How the Size of the Plane Changes Things
- 7 Air Accidents Caused by Rain
Planes Can Take off in the Rain
Yes, planes can and will generally take off in the rain, assuming no other weather conditions, like thunderstorms or hurricanes, are present.
However, if the rainfall has ice or supercooled water droplets, taking off becomes more difficult. The presence of aircraft deicing facilities would then determine whether it’d be safe to take off.
Additionally, if the outside temperature is below freezing, the rain can freeze when it touches the ground. When this happens, it creates slick runway conditions that make take-offs difficult.
Most modern planes use weather radars to determine whether such conditions are present. Pilots and the airline then decide whether flying is safe enough under those conditions.
Related: Does Rain Delay Flights?
Planes Can Also Fly (Cruise) in the Rain
Planes can fly (cruise) under light rainfall without any problems.
Aircraft are equipped to fly under such weather conditions, and pilots are trained to cruise under such conditions too.
Specifically, pilots ensure the aircraft has visibility and the ceiling is above the minimum needed for safe flight.
Additionally, airflow effectively removes water from the plane’s windshield during high-speed flights, ensuring visibility.
For additional safety, most pilots are provided weather radars and may avoid high-density rainfall flight paths.
Planes Can Usually Land in the Rain
Rainfall largely does not prevent plane landings.
Rainfall impacts aircraft landings the same way it impacts aircraft take-offs. If the rainfall is too heavy, it reduces visibility, making landing unsafer.
If there are additional weather conditions, like thunderstorms or icing, landing may be too dangerous.
Generally, just rainfall isn’t enough to cause a runway to be unsafe for landing. But, if the rain is accompanied by snowfall, it can freeze the runway.
Frozen runways are near-impossible to land on due to the reduced friction.
Without sufficient friction, an aircraft can’t slow down and could potentially slide off the runway and hit an obstacle.
The Dangers of Planes Flying in the Rain
Aircraft experience no problems flying under light rainfall. Pilots fly under light rainfall as long as VFR (Visual Flight Rules) are maintained.
VFR instructs pilots on the minimum visibility needed to fly for different altitudes and airspace.
If VFR cannot be maintained under light rainfall, pilots are obligated to not fly, even if the aircraft technically could fly under those conditions.
Flying under heavy rainfall is strongly discouraged by all aviation authorities, even though a majority of aircraft are actually capable of flying in such conditions.
However, since airlines prioritize safety, they usually don’t permit flights under heavy rainfall, as it can substantially decrease visibility.
Some pilots may be trained to fly under heavy rainfall, and their aircraft may be equipped to fly under heavy rainfall too.
Yet, it remains heavily discouraged. Heavy rainfall is also associated with thunderstorms or cumulonimbus clouds, which can be dangerous to aircraft.
How Much Rain is Considered Too Much to Fly?
The heaviness of the rainfall itself does not affect whether planes can fly. Modern aircraft generate lift regardless of the heaviness of the rain.
The problem with heavy rainfall is a decrease in visibility and secondary weather conditions.
Therefore, the amount of rainfall that prevents flight is whatever amount impairs visibility and causes other weather conditions in the particular area the plane is taking off or landing from.
When flying either below 3,000 feet above mean sea level or 1,000 feet above the ground, VFR is maintained if there are no clouds and land or the sea is visible within 5 km.
How the Size of the Plane Changes Things
Heavy rainfall could cause a mild inconvenience or active danger to a small plane. The aircraft’s equipment and the pilot’s training and experience would determine whether rainfall poses a danger to fly in.
Generally, smaller planes avoid flying under heavy rain since they’re more vulnerable to decreased visibility and icing in the engines.
Related: Are Small Planes Safe?
Large planes are designed to fly under almost all weather conditions, including heavy rain.
While heavy rain impacts visibility, making it difficult to land, large planes are equipped with advanced instrument landing systems to make landing easier in low visibility conditions.
However, heavy clouding that can accompany heavy rainfall can be a barrier to landing for even large planes if the clouds extend low to the ground.
Air Accidents Caused by Rain
Weather conditions account for one-quarter of air accidents. Yet, rain alone accounts for very, very few air accidents.
Typically, rain-related air accidents occur during take-off or landing because of reduced visibility. For example, Air India Express Flight 1344 crashed during landing under heavy rain.
In 2002, Garuda Indonesia Flight 421 experienced a flameout because of frozen rainfall. The plane successfully crash-landed in a river with only one fatality.
In conclusion, you now know that the answer to if planes can fly in the rain is a clear yes.
However, airlines often avoid flying under heavy rainfall conditions to avoid secondary weather conditions like frozen rainfall or thunderstorms.
These secondary conditions actually threaten aircraft and can cause them to crash.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.