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The Effects of Higher Elevations on Aircraft Performance

If you are an avid skier, you probably know the effect that high altitude has on your breathing.  The same principle that makes it difficult to breathe at high altitude can also have an impact on the performance of your charter aircraft.  A common misconception among jet charter consumers is that inclement weather, (i.e. thunderstorms, blizzards, etc.), is the only source of a weather-related delay.  In actuality, the effects of air density on aircraft performance play an equal role in affecting a charter flight out of high altitude destinations.

Air density is an important consideration when traveling to popular ski-resort destinations, such as Telluride (TEX), Truckee (TRK), Eagle (EGE) and Aspen (ASE). Why? At higher elevations, air density is much lower. Low air density can have a major impact on aircraft performance and can be dangerous as it reduces lift. The lower the air density, the higher the speed an aircraft must achieve to generate lift. Warmer temperatures also reduce air density. Factor in a high temperature along with a higher elevation and it can quickly become a safety issue, and can result in a delayed departure until conditions become more favorable.

Air density can be defined as the mass of air divided by the volume it occupies. Because air density is a complex subject, we will only focus on the effects it has on aircraft performance.  What is important to know is that a number of factors, including altitude/pressure, temperature and humidity can affect the density of air.  More specifically, high altitudes, low pressure, high temperatures and humidity can reduce aircraft performance.

When air density decreases, the lifting force underneath an aircraft’s wings decreases too, along with the power produced by the engines and the thrust created by the propeller.  These performance losses will offset the already-reduced drag on the aircraft, which means that it will need more runway to safely take-off and land.  That’s why at higher elevation airports, where the density of air is already a concern, a higher temperature can be just as dangerous as the presence of aircraft icing

Fortunately for the skiing enthusiast, there are a number of private jet aircraft that were designed to perform at higher altitudes, such as the Citation Ultra and the Citation Excel. The mid-sized Citation Excel has two powerful Pratt & Whitney PW545 engines, providing excellent take-off thrust-to-weight ratio, enabling it to take-off from shorter runways at higher elevations.  In addition, the increased airflow over its engine core allows it to operate in higher temperatures without a significant loss in performance.  The Citation Excel was designed with the skier in mind as it has ample storage room for skis (or golf clubs) in its luggage compartment.

The next time you plan a trip to a popular ski resort haven, like Aspen or Telluride, keep in mind that your jet charter flight could be delayed if you encounter high temperatures or low pressure conditions.  Remember that safety should always come first, even if it means waiting a few hours for temperatures to cool down at the airport.  To minimize the chances of a flight delay, our experienced air charter agents at Stratos Jets can help you find a charter aircraft that is best-suited to handle the effects of low density on aircraft performance. In addition to ensuring your personal safety, your agent will go above and beyond to find you a private aircraft that can accommodate you, your party and your equipment.

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