When wildfires pump smoke into the air, air traffic controllers are more likely to keep flights on the ground than they would during rainy or foggy conditions.
While both the moisture from rain and fog and the smoke from wildfires can lead to reduced visibility – and thusly, flight delays – smoke can pose a greater danger.
This is due to the navigation systems pilots and air traffic controllers depend on, according to Kevin Morris with the Federal Aviation Administration.
These systems are located in the aircraft and on the ground and are particularly helpful during low visibility conditions, such as those caused by rain and fog.
Water droplets from rain and fog don’t typically impact the navigation systems, but solid particles, such as smoke and ash, can cause the navigation systems to be less effective. Because of this, air traffic controllers and pilots need to take additional safety precautions.
"This includes greater distances between arriving and departing aircraft, as well as limiting the types of aircraft they may land based on their navigation equipment," Morris said.
He added that since smoke can linger longer than fog or rain, the FAA may slow traffic to keep the airspace safe.
Many Americans have recently experienced flight delays due to wildfire smoke in Canada moving into the eastern U.S.