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The challenge of the cold

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Between December and March, SWISS and Edelweiss fly two charters a week to Kittilä in Northern Finland. The services, which are being provided for Falcontravel and Kontiki Reisen, pose quite an operational challenge for flight and ground crews alike.

The Northern Finnish resort of Kittilä is a popular destination for snowsports fans and seekers of gentler vacations as well. For our crews, too, it’s a welcome change from the usual rotations. But it does offer its own operational and turnaround peculiarities – as we experienced in our rotation on 18 January.

“Eco-fuelling” saves money
To take one example, the aircraft operating these Kittilä flights are fully fuelled in Zurich whenever possible, to ensure that they only have to uplift the minimum extra fuel needed for the return flight when on the ground in Kittilä. The reason: kerosene is more expensive there. In view of the low temperatures it experiences, Kittilä Airport can also require special approach provisions. Generally, the airport is approached with a decision height of 870 feet above sea level (or 220 feet above the ground). But in extreme cold – such as on the day of our flight – 870 feet would be too low for a go-around decision, because of the denser air. As a result, our decision height was raised 45 feet to 915 feet above sea level.

Special snow warnings
Kittilä Airport’s Runway 34 has a few surprises, too. Owing to the local topography, it requires an ILS approach of 3.4°, steeper than the usual 3.0°. At 2,500 metres, the runway is about the same length as Zurich’s Runway 10/28. With a favourable weather forecast and the SNOWTAMs* reporting “braking action good”, we were able to perform our landing with little restriction or concern. Only the apron seemed to have any snow or ice on it, and was described as having “braking action poor” in the same reports. With services to and from the airport few and far between, the Kittilä ground staff do not issue loadsheets. So it’s up to the cockpit crew to use the information available (on containers, passengers per zone etc.) and make their own weight and trim calculations. These manual procedures are something of a rarity nowadays, but naturally pose no major problem to the crews concerned.

De-icing at the limit
De-icing operations, too, are pushed to the limits when the temperatures are as cold as this. Every type of de-icing fluid has its own lowest operational use temperature or “LOUT”, which is based on its freezing point plus a suitable safety margin. For the fluid used in Kittilä, it’s -33°C. On the day of our flight the local temperature was -36°C. Luckily, no de-icing was required. If it had been, we’d have experienced a nightstop in Northern Finland, too!

*SNOWTAM = Snow Warning To Airmen, used by Scandinavian operations, is a notification describing the conditions of the runway, taxiway and apron status at an aerodrome with respect to snow, ice and standing water.