Smoke Cancels Flights In Northeast


More than 2,000 flights were delayed and more than 100 canceled in New York and other northeast airports on Wednesday because of the smoke that is enveloping a big swath of the country. Huge wildfires in Quebec and a stubborn high-pressure system set up over the middle of the continent have resulted in some of the smokiest skies in memory from the Carolinas to Canada. A ground stop caused by the smoke was lifted mid-afternoon, but the damage was done and delays and cancellations rippled through the system. The smoke was also dense enough to halt VFR operations throughout the areas affected.

“The FAA has slowed traffic to and from the New York City area airports due to reduced visibility from wildfire smoke,” the FAA told CNN in a statement. “The agency will adjust the volume of traffic to account for the rapidly changing conditions.” The forecast is for the smoke to linger for several days although it will be variable. Air quality in the whole region has deteriorated to the point that those with health conditions are advised to stay indoors.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Not trying to second guess, but it seems odd that restrictions are because of reduced visibility . We have reduced visibility everyday at many locations called weather, fog, etc. I grew up in L.A. While a controller at LGB, we started each day IFR and then fugged when we thought we could finally guess we had a skinny 3 miles in the fog and smog. The VFRs would then launch by the hundreds. I will assume it is because of air quality affecting the persons. But then again, they didn’t live in L.A. in the 50s.

    • I’m not an air-traffic controller, but I believe the big difference is the type of traffic. LaGuardia (LGA) is a Class Bravo and sees over ten times the air-carrier traffic of a Class Delta like Long Beach (346,000 vs 32,000 in 2022). Given the increased IFR spacing in reduced visibility, that really stretches out the conga line.

      The only VFRs at LGA would be GA traffic, and that really doesn’t happen at LGA (4,000 vs 111,000 at LGB). Pretty much every flight is IFR regardless of weather. Combine those flight plans with the overlapping Class Bravos of JFK and Newark and you have some pretty congested airspace.

      • LGB at my time was the fourth busiest in the country, about 560K a year. But fog, rain, all of that reduces vis everyday somewhere, and they just keep coming and going. That is what IMC operations are about. ORD, DFW, ATL don’t even slowdown with reduced vis. They just adjust the type of operations from visual approaches to IFR approaches and there is barely a difference in traffic. Gotta be something else.

    • Agree. Looking at all of the METARS for JFK and LGA yesterday, the lowest was VIS 1SM and Plus 6000 RVR – no reason to reduce commercial operations from just visibility.

    • Probably lightning. There are fires in BC as well as Quebec. The western ones are being blamed on lightning and it’s a good bet for the east too.

  2. The smoke may not be uniform and at times could be denser or lighter which can change even IFR requirements. If VFR is not able to operate and a whole region (if not section of the country) is IFR effected that could put a strain on the ATC flight management and whether a plane can enter the area and still have alternates that meet FAA IFR guidelines.

    It could also be possible that flying through dense clouds of smoke is different than vapor clouds. the density and composition of the particles (particulate) could put more wear on engines which could require earlier maintenance reviews. If it is not good for humans I can figure it is not good for jet/turbofan engines.

    Can a plane fly through this muck? Certainly, but should it if the worst that happens is upset schedules for a few days. Airliners may want to consider looking at and planning around climate change weather impacts, because there will be more, not less events be it hurricanes, much more severe fronts, record heat in desert areas, along with large wildfires blanketing vast areas with smoke.

    It certainly makes flying more interesting.

  3. It looks like the visibility and celling is consistently above minimums especially for Cat 2 approaches but to get an alternate the >600′ ceiling and 2 NM visibility my be hard because of the wide area affected and the airliners may not want to carry the extra fuel.

  4. The smoke has been covering much of North America for several weeks–but only when it affects New York does the East Coast aviation press consider it a “problem,” The rest of the country just takes it in stride.

    Weather is above minimums–no need to panic.

    • I’ve flown through several summers of this happening in the PNW, and the issue isn’t usually the visibility being below minimums, it’s the visibility not allowing visual approaches.

      A lot of airports have to cut their arrival rate down significantly when it’s actual IMC, and if those airports are already flirting with disaster on a good day, sustained periods of poor visibility (especially that coincide with a big “push” of arrivals) can result in absolute chaos in terms of flow delays and ground stops.