On January 16, 2009, the FAA released a letter explaining its view on Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI).  As a VFR-only pilot, I don’t deal too much with FIKI – its presence anywhere in the vicinity of my flight path would mean I would not be flying anyway.  However, the letter provides some guidance on what has become an ephemeral ideal – one that has left many pilots wondering whether or not FIKI would be cause for a certificate action against them.

As stated in the letter, FIKI is not directly referenced in part 91 and the only reference to known icing conditions (subpart F) applies to large and turbine-powered multiengine airplanes and fractional ownership progam aircraft – so what about us single-engine and small multi-engine folk?  Let’s read on.

The letter points to the usual Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs )suspects for the basis for an enforcement action: 91.9 (compliance with the POH), 91.13 (careless and reckless operation), and 91.103 (flight planning responsibilities).  The definition of “known ice” in 7-1-22 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) references actual ice visually observed on the aircraft.  Note that it does not reference conditions as a determinitive factor – only ACTUAL ice present on the aircraft itself.  The letter specifically excludes the commonly held belief that the presence of visible moisture (clouds) at below-freezing temperatures constitutes known icing conditions (I can hear the collective sigh of relief from here!).

It appears that the general rule going forward is that the FAA will consider the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident or accident in determining whether enforcement action is warranted – a more “holistic” approach, if you will.  Common facts considered will include: available weather information, pre-flight planning, alternative pilot actions, actual ice formation, the pilot’s steps to exit such conditions, etc.).

Although the FAA left itself some “wiggle room,” I am encouraged by its move to a  more practical approach to these situations.  Only time (and enforcement actions) will tell how FIKI will develop in light of this letter.