March 2009 Issue

FIKI: Do You Really Need It?

Flight-into-known-icing approval shouldn’t change the fundamental safety equation. But Cirrus’ impressive integrated approach to de-icing is just a better system.

The phrases "all weather" and "single-engine airplane" belong in the same sentence only for a select few pilots whose tolerance for risk is best described as elastic. What has always been true, remains true: One man’s routine trip through cold clouds is another man’s (or woman’s) agita-inducing nightmare. Of late, the industry has made remarkable strides in giving even the most risk-tolerant pilots better tools to detect threatening weather and deal with its consequences. Still, even for many experienced pilots, structural icing represents an exceptional terror. Ice forecasting has improved—even in the last five years—but intensity forecasting is still uncertain at best. And many pilots worry—irrationally in our view—about the FAA-legal definition of known icing. When is it legal to depart? When is it not? Do so-called inadvertent ice protection systems really buy you any risk mitigation? (Short answer: yes.) For some pilots, worrying about these fine details leads to distracting hand wringing. It really shouldn’t. Seeing an opportunity in this conundrum, Cirrus Aircraft (formerly Cirrus Design) recently developed and will soon certify and ship what is, in our view, the most sophisticated and possibly effective integrated approach to ice protection for any single-engine piston airplane we’ve seen. And that’s saying a lot, given the excellent TKS-based known-ice package that Mooney has offered for years, not to mention inadvertent and certified systems for Beechcraft and Cessna models, including the composite Bend, Oregon-built Corvallis line. Prior to Cessna buying the then-Columbia Aircraft Company, Columbia had dabbled in electric ice protection systems, but without much success. TKS is now the market leader in new aircraft de-icing systems. By way of definition, "inadvertent" means a system is designed to provide some margin of protection without being certified for flight into known ice.

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