New FAA Icing Definition is a Cloud of Confusion

Some point out that if the FAA sticks to its interpretation then most general aviation aircraft would be grounded for the winter.


In the June letter, a FAA regional attorney inserted a new concept into the discussion: high relative humidity. "Reduced to basic terms, known icing conditions exist when visible moisture or high relative humidity combines with temperatures near or below freezing," FAA regional counsel Loretta Alkalay wrote on June 6 to Robert J. Miller of East Amherst, NY.

"Our issue is that this went against current FAA guidance," said AOPA’s Vasconcelos. "Our concern is that the June interpretation could ground general aviation pilots and their aircraft entirely in the winter months. It would create unsafe conditions, because the pilots would not be able to stay proficient during the winter months," she said.

Until AOPA sends the FAA its formal comments, Vasconcelos would not assess the FAA's definition of "known icing conditions." She did note that the proposal "leaves it up to the pilot to use all available resources and weather information to evaluate the situation."

"Actual ice adhering to an aircraft is the only logical definition of 'known' icing conditions," said Joe Farrell, of Marlborough, CT, is his filing. "The pilot in command needs to make an intelligent assessment of risk, but simply departing into a cloud that is below freezing is no guarantor of ice, nor, given the experience of a particular pilot, careless or reckless."

Many of the pilots that filed earlier comments focused on the regulatory action the FAA may take against pilot in conjunction with the revised definitions.

"A forecast is a best guess, a possibility," said James H. Macklin, of Wichita, KS. "Enforcement action based on a possibility is not in accordance with American legal tradition or the English language used by non-lawyers."

Lorick Fox, a physician's assistant working for a U.S. military contractor and a former director of the Virginia Civil Air Patrol, noted that "the reality is that pilots are afraid of ice, will use reasonable judgment to avoid icing, and attempting to set definitions based, not on safety but on potential regulatory action is wrong, and dangerous.

"It appears this entire issue is an attempt to make regulatory action against pilots easier, not improve aviation safety. If a definition requires more than one sentence, it isn't a definition. A definition that requires a full letter simply makes the fact that there is debate, uncertainty, and a requirement for judgment, very clear."

In the view of Clint Lowe, of Fargo, ND, "it would be much simpler to say, 'If the FAA finds your airplane with ice on it, you will have an enforcement action taken against you.'"

The FAA is accepting comments on its site, as Docket ID 27758, until May 3.

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