hailstones on the pavement

April 27, 2017

Spring is finally here, bringing with it balmy temperatures – and hail the size of baseballs. From roughly May to September, hailstorms can occur regularly in certain areas of the United States, particularly in the Great Plains, where “Hail Alley” – home to the most hail days each year – stretches through Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.

The best hailstorm strategy for business aircraft operators is the simplest: avoid it. Here are a few other considerations for hail season.

Tip 1: Take Advantage of the Latest Weather Technology

With the help of improved forecast technology, operators can more accurately plan around inclement weather. John Kosak, NBAA project manager, weather, recommends consulting the National Weather Service’s (NWS) new Traffic Flow Management Convective Forecast (TCF), which replaced the CDM Convective Forecast Product earlier this year.

“The nice thing about the TCF is that it’s a high-confidence product, updated every two hours so you’ve got something you can look at throughout the day.” said Kosak. “In the past, it was as if somebody was taking – not a paint brush – but a paint roller to the page. This new tool is more accurate and dependable.”

Another useful tool is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NWS Storm Prediction Center. Within the website’s “Convective Outlook” section, users can view forecasts by category – tornado, wind, hail or general severe weather – which are valid for up to 24 hours.

Tip 2: Pilot/ATC Collaboration Helps Everybody

On Aug. 7, 2015, a Delta Airbus crew was forced to make an emergency landing after flying into a hailstorm over Nebraska. The mishap occurred in part because the pilots did not obtain adequate weather information from the Denver air traffic controller. This incident highlights the importance of effective collaboration between pilots and ATC.

Pilots should provide timely reports on conditions aloft, and ATC should take advantage of superior on-the-ground weather technology to keep pilots informed on convective developments.

“You need to communicate what you’re seeing and ask the question, ‘What am I missing?’ ” Kosak said, noting that pilots need to be vigilant about seeking information, since some in-cockpit/tablet radar displays may show weather that is 10-20 minutes old.

Tip 3: My Aircraft Was Damaged – Now What?

Despite an operator’s best efforts, hail damage – whether on the ground or in the air – is sometimes unavoidable. If the skin is damaged in a way that affects flight characteristics or a control surface, the damage may rise to an airworthiness item, resulting in major repairs. However, even cosmetic damage may have an impact on the value of the aircraft when it is resold.

“Most aircraft insurance policies cover hail, but the bigger issue that will not be covered is diminution of value of an aircraft that experiences repairs necessary due to hail damage,” said Forrest Owens, of law firm Saavedra Goodwin, and a member of NBAA’s Regulatory Issues Advisory Group.

While diminution of value may be unpreventable, large financial loss doesn’t have to be. Owens recommends that all operators – especially those who frequent areas prone to hailstorms – make sure their insurance covers hail damage to the hull, both in the air and on the ground. Owens also suggests avoiding over-insuring (an agreed-upon hull value in excess of the actual hull value), as this can make determination of a total loss more difficult by an insurer.

View NBAA’s weather resources.