To FIKI or not to FIKI

It’s that time of year, so my first serious blog on the new OptAir site will address FIKI. I’ve been asked many times if OptAir will get FIKI (Flight Into Known Ice) certified SR22s in the fleet.  Answer:  probably not.

Start here: J. Mac McClellan’s article on icing is spot on.

If you think you need a FIKI SR22, consider the following points.

1) We’ve been flying TKS equipped SR22’s through the winter for many years now.  There are days we can’t go, but we plan around them.  Those days are typically the same days the known ice equipped planes can’t go either because they don’t carry enough TKS to complete the mission anyway.  45 minutes of known ice exposure just isn’t enough to really get anywhere. I think the difference between a FIKI SR22 and a non-FIKI SR22 in terms of utility is maybe a few days a year (at most) where the known-ice plane might take on a little more penetration of potential icing conditions, but that’s about it.

2)  Given only a few days where a FIKI plane might fly and a non-FIKI not fly, the difference in useful load negates any advantage.  It’s that simple.  We need to put people and fuel on board more than we need a couple days of busting around in conditions that a single-engine aircraft probably shouldn’t be in anyway.  I dare say that fuel starvation causes more incidents or limits more missions than trying to keep to no more than 45 minutes of “moderate” ice or less.  Do you really want to play Russian Roulette with that stuff?

3) Yes, the FIKI planes do shed ice better than the non-FIKI versions.  But does it really matter practically?  I’d suggest that ANY single should be in the business of avoiding ice, not going into it without a plan for escape.  FIKI is a recipe for disaster if treated as a reason to simply keep going in icing conditions without a known escape route in a known time.  Oh, sure, it works for a while, maybe for many years of flying for some…until that one time when the ice overwhelms the system.  I’ve been flying all winter for over 30 years now without TKS and with TKS.  The TKS is nice for keeping the wings clean during a short icing encounter and getting out of it.  But I don’t take the plane somewhere I wouldn’t have without the TKS.  And I fly all winter – a lot – as many will attest to.  The trick is to always know the exposure expected, and if it isn’t short (a quick climb or descent out of it) then it’s a turn around no-go.  If one doesn’t appreciate the relationship of temperature to icing rates (essentially the water content in the atmosphere) and understand cloud formation and development around weather systems one shouldn’t be out experimenting with staying in the crap and hoping for an out before it gets too bad.  I have also found (through my CFI activities) that most pilots really don’t understand where to expect layering vs. solid crap all the way up and such things weather related like that very well.

3) Most pilots could use a lot more experience with simply staying out of the clouds in the winter.  Flying VFR at 1000 to 1500 agl isn’t dangerous if one knows how to read a chart and stay away from the towers.  Mountain obscuration is a no go, so one has to make sure there’s a way over the top or between layers in those areas.  If not, find another way around or wait for better weather.  But I’ve flown from Detroit to Minneapolis at 800 to 1200 agl the entire way (no mountains!), under a thick overcast full of ice.  I went around the south end of Chicago, I stayed away from flying low over cities, I dodged a few towers along the way.  And I had a tailwind, great visibility and a nice ride, whereas there was no staying on top across that entire route on that particular day.  The stuff was solid up into the teens and twenties, and it wasn’t trace or light – it was moderate and worse.  A FIKI bird would not have made that trip any other way either.

4) We’ve had a couple situations where SR22 pilots ran through an entire tank of TKS on a flight.  Some actually were in conditions that needed it and some were just running it because they thought they might fly into ice, which is a misuse of the system if anything more than a couple minutes.  They had no business being there in that way – using TKS as a way of continuing in icing conditions is never prudent, and only legal in a FIKI plane for 45 minutes or less (as most certifications are for no more exposure than that, and only in “moderate” ice).  One scared the crap out of himself for good reason, running out of fluid and getting behind the icing buildup curve way too far before finding a runway.  A FIKI plane would have made no difference that day either, as the ice was bad enough that a King Air from Pontiac turned around and came home, whereas the Cirrus driver bludgeoned along until running out of TKS, a true recipe for disaster.  The answer was to stay out of it.

So I’m not interested in FIKI planes and honestly, I’m not interested in flying with pilots who think they must have it, as their very desire for it tends to reveal an attitude about penetrating icing conditions that I don’t want to share.  And I bet I’ll fly more trips this winter than they do and with a lot less heartburn.

Our OptAir owners have by and large shared this perspective, and most load up the aircraft (4 people and as much fuel as can be taken) for trips regularly.  A known-ice G3 series plane is over gross with two and just over tabs fuel, which is nearly worthless to us.  The new G5 might actually carry something but they aren’t a good value yet.

Stay safe out there.


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