How Flying Slow Can Save Time

Sometimes it pays to pull the power back and take your time. In fact, sometimes it can save an awful lot of time.

I was operating a flight from Chattanooga to Memphis on a foggy winter day. I had been flying this trip all month, and the flight had become quite routine. Today, the weather put a slight kink in our plans. The latest forecast read as follows:

TAF KMEM 300530Z 3006/3106 29005KT 2SM BR SCT001
      TEMPO 3006/3010 1/4SM FZFG VV001
     FM301000 29005KT 1SM BR SCT001
      TEMPO 3010/3013 1/4SM FZFG VV001
     FM301500 27010KT P6SM BKN100
     FM302000 25010KT P6SM SCT050 BKN100
     FM310000 30005KT P6SM BKN050

We were scheduled to arrive in Memphis at 13:30 Zulu time. Our minimums for shooting a Category 2 ILS approach required a runway visual range (RVR) of 1,600 feet, or about 1/4 statute miles visibility. The latest METAR from Memphis revealed an RVR of 1,200 feet, well below our minimums. Although the weather was forecast to improve, we had reason to suspect the timeliness of that improvement. There was still a good chance that we would wind up at one of our alternates. Not cool.

It was my leg to fly and my captain made the insightful suggestion to fly slowly. Although we were in a hurry to get back, I agreed that this was the best course of action and kept the speed down, and that made all the difference.

By maintaining a lower cruise speed, we improved the safety of flight and shaved hours off the trip. How is this possible you ask? Read on.

For starters, a lower cruise speed resulted in a much more efficient fuel burn, allowing us to arrive with a few hundred pounds of extra fuel. Had the weather not been conducive to an approach, the extra fuel could have bought us a little more time to wait and see if the visibility would cooperate before diverting to an alternate.

We also reasoned that the slower cruising speed would also allow us to arrive a few minutes later, well into the time period in which the visibility was forecast to improve. En route, Memphis’ ATIS revealed an RVR of 1,200 feet, which gradually improved to 1,800 feet just prior to our approach. We were legal to land.

At no point did we have to enter a holding pattern, and we landed uneventfully on 36-Left after a textbook approach right down to minimums.

If we had made a speedy dash to Memphis, we might not have been legal to shoot the approach, and our passengers would have experienced an unpleasant delay in Huntsville complete with missed connections and frayed nerves. Instead, we took our time and completed the flight just a few minutes late, as opposed to a few hours for the would-be diversion.

Don’t let get-there-itis trick you into rushing towards the sky. If the weather at your destination is uncooperative, but scheduled to improve, it may be prudent slow down. In some cases, it might even be wise to delay your departure until the weather begins to clear. With a little patience, you can beat the weather and find your runway well above minimums.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

2 Replies to How Flying Slow Can Save Time

  1. David Kulp says:

    The site looks impressive Patrick. I will bookmark it and expect great things to come.

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