How Do I Report Braking Action?

Be sure to note the details in pilot reports when you conduct your preflight planning.

Pilot reports about the braking action are very useful for planning during rainy or icy weather. [Credit: Jim Stevenson]

Question: The runway at my airport measures 3,650 feet by 60 feet. Because it is winter, there's a lot of rain, and sometimes ice, which can make the runway really slippery, yet people are still flying. Everyone tells the story about the Cessna pilot who slid off the end of the runway because of slick conditions—I don't want to be chapter two. How do I know if my brakes are going to be enough? I don't want to run out of braking power and runway at the same time.


Your best bet for determining braking action at an airport are your fellow pilots, specifically, PIREPS (pilot reports) about the braking action. The FAA has given us specific language to use for these PIREPS to avoid the dreaded and non-informative "pretty good" and "not too bad."

Per the FAA guidelines, the report should include appropriate braking action terms—for example good, medium, poor, or nil—and the portion of the runway for which the braking action report applies and the type of aircraft involved. If the braking action report affects only a portion of the runway, the report should include enough information to describe to which part the braking action applies in terms easy to understand by other pilots.

For example: "Braking action poor, reported by a Piper Seminole, good beyond Taxiway Alpha 2."

When there is low visibility, such as at dusk when it is difficult to see the taxiway signs, other landmarks should be used—for example "abeam the tower” or "across from the fire station.”

If the airport has an ATIS, information about braking action may be included in the report.

Pilot technique is critical when braking action is less than optimal, especially on landing. Be sure to manage your energy, using a combination of short- and soft-field technique with the expectation of zero braking ability—because if you apply brakes because you are running out of runway, things can get interesting in a hurry. Better planning—as in touching down as slowly and softly as possible on the approach end of the runway followed by aerodynamic braking—is a better option.

Do you have a question about aviation that’s been bugging you? Ask us anything you’ve ever wanted to know about aviation. Our experts in general aviation, flight training, aircraft, avionics, and more may attempt to answer your question in a future article.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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