Thunderstorms can impede our progress any time of the year. If we kept the plane in the hangar every time a forecast called for them, however, we’d almost never fly in the spring and summer months. To learn how to safely dispatch and conduct a flight in areas of thunderstorms, we’ve asked pilots “on a mission” to fly in almost all conditions—priority cargo and business transportation—what it takes to make it to their destination on schedule. More important, we also asked when storms are strong enough to sit it out despite the sometimes severe economic consequences. With far less stress to “go” than these commercial and business operators, pilots of owner-flown airplanes can learn from their expert strategy for thunderstorm avoidance. Ameriflight is a major Part 135 air cargo operation, serving over 200 cities across North America with more than 2100 departures a week. The carrier operates a fleet of over 170 aircraft, mostly commuter-size turboprops and Learjets. To meet such a demanding schedule Ameriflight can’t afford to take unnecessary risks with thunderstorms. About half of its airplanes are unpressurized, and most operations are below 19,000 feet, so they’re in the thick of the weather. When it comes to thunderstorm avoidance, John Hazlet, vice president of safety and standards, as well as director of operations for Ameriflight, knows what he’s talking about: “I cut my teeth flying DC-6s with a 50,000 watt, 36-inch dish radar,” Hazlet says.

 

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