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Is there a maximum or minimum temperature that a plane can take off or land at?

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  • $\begingroup$ Be aware there's not just a max air temperature for some aircraft, but there are sometimes max temperature limits for the fuel. For example the 747-100/200 limit was, as I remember 54.5C (130F). Same for the -400. See b747400.com/pdf/limits.pdf. Back in the 1990s in the Arabian Gulf countries during summer, this was sometimes a problem. $\endgroup$ – Terry Jun 25 '17 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ I used to work as a load planner for UPS, and often aircraft was grounded well before approaching any max limit, because in order to fly a large aircraft like a 747 (for profit) you would have to de-fuel or unload much of the cargo, so we would just hold the plane until air temperatures cooled so we could fly it fully loaded, and take the hit on the delay. I was also, once bumped from a flight from PHX to HNL due to density altitude issue because of the heat. $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jun 27 '17 at 4:43
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There is a maximum temp but that varies by airport altitude, runway length, aircraft and payload. You can find an answer to that question here.

There is not really a minimum temperature but it needs to be warm enough out to run the engines. Again this varies by aircraft and a preheat can usually solve this problem but there are places on earth where it be comes practically to cold to operate some aircraft. On a similar note if icing conditions prevail you are not really going anywhere but those can occur at lots of altitudes and temperatures. If the given airplane is stored outside and the airport lacks proper de-ice equipment you may be grounded.

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Maximum and minimum temperatures are governed by two factors.

First, there is the limitations imposed by the manufacturer. For example, recently the media has been reporting that some regional jets have max temps for operations, and they have been unable to operate in the southwest US. Some manufacturers also limit low temperature operations, and may require different lubricants, fuel, etc.

Second, aside from manufacturer (or company) limitations, there are practical limitations. Engines can be hard to start at -40. Fuel can gel. Batteries can render insufficient power to perform normal starts. These limitations are normally determined by practicality, experience or other sources of information by the crew.

In my experience, dealing with hot soaked planes is normally easier than dealing with cold soaked planes. Other issues like density altitude (DENALT) are operational issues, that while normally are considerations, are usually not hard limitations. For example, departing a 1200 foot strip in South American mountains on 35C days has been a limitation with a turboprop aircraft, for me, but the number of times I have had those operational considerations limit flight can probably be counted on my fingers and toes.

So in general, there are two limitations: Those imposed by the manufacturer and the aircraft certification, and those imposed by practicality (which includes best practices).

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps this should be a new question, but I've read two things regarding the regional jets in Phoenix. I've heard "they can't take off because the runway isn't long enough", but I've also read "the POH (or something similar) tables don't give data above a certain temperature, therefore they can't fly (even if the runway would be long enough for the conditions), and updating the tables with new information would allow flight". Any idea which it is, or both? $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 21 '17 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ I know that some of the flights are impacted by a max operating temperature. I don't have an authority on the details, but I think it is something like a 119F ambient. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jun 21 '17 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ The runways are about 10,000' long. It is possible that the runways aren't long enough to satisfy the runway length requirements (significantly more runway is required than is actually needed to take off) but it is more likely that the performance charts don't have performance numbers above a certain temp. It got up to 121°F/49.5°C in certain parts of Phoenix on 6/20 so it is very possible that crews simply could not calculate performance which means they were not legal to fly. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jun 22 '17 at 3:05
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Yes, there are some temperature limitations, but these are typically aircraft specific.

For example, the Beechcraft King Air B200 has the following limitation:

Max Outside Air Temperature Limitations

Sea Level to 25,000 FT pressure altitude: ISA + 37° C

These limitations are given in the AFM, and compliance is required.

Practically speaking, this limits aircraft operation of any kind—including takeoff and landing. Takeoff would not be authorized at sea level above 52°C, or at 5000 ft pressure altitude above 42°C.

For a minimum temperature, the engines have a starting limitation of at or above -40°C.

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It depends on the model of the plane, particularly its engines, the length of runway available, and surface wind conditions. The aircraft's Pilot Operating Handbook will include a set of performance charts. To determine whether you can safely takeoff or land, you would plot the values (including temperature) into the chart.

This related question discusses some of the precautionary steps one should take when operating in very cold or hot weather.

In general, aircraft performance will be the limiting factor in hot weather, and in cold weather the challenge is to get things started and stop things from freezing.

There is no absolute temperature regulation-wise. Practically you can argue that the minimum temperature is when the fuel freezes and the maximum temperature is when the tire melts, but you will likely run into other troubles before this extreme is reached.

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  • $\begingroup$ There are regulatoty limits. Air carriers must adhere to performance charts. Charts only go to 48°c? No flying at 49°c. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jun 22 '17 at 2:59

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