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photo of dust storm

Dust is a fact of life. But in aviation, it can be a serious and costly one. In many parts of the world, dust storms and winds are a regular challenge to the aviation industry. Furthermore, the problem is only going to get worse. As the climate changes, the risk of encountering dust storms increases as areas of drought and dry soil increase and high winds that carry the dust become more frequent. The industry is looking for solutions, like protective fabric aircraft shelters, to help weather the dust storms that can wreak havoc on aircraft.

Importance of Protective Aircraft Shelter Against Dangers of Dust and Wind in Aviation

Two of the worst enemies of aircraft in the sky or on ground are dust and wind. Blowing dust reduces visibility and clogs engines and mechanical parts. Severe dust storms can pose risk to flying aircraft and people on board. Dust storms may pass quickly or last for hours, but even quickly-passing storms can do significant damage.

Strong winds alone are dangerous to aircraft, and they also accompany most dust storms, making the scenario even more dangerous. Strong gusts and wind shear are dangerous, even in the best of visibility conditions, especially during takeoff and landing. Aircraft on the ground may be damaged by flying debris or even overturned in high force winds. During a dust storm event, winds carry and intensify the effects of suspended dust.

How Dust Storms Endanger Aircraft

Large Dust Storm Blowing Toward Town with Wall of Dirt

Blowing dust can move quickly and cause damage to vegetation, vehicles, buildings and of course, aircraft in  its path. Speed, the size and composition of particles, and the volume and duration of the storm are all factors in the severity of damage. Blowing dust and sand move through three basic mechanisms:

  1. Suspension. The wind carries many tiny particles of dust or sand into the atmosphere.
  2. Saltation. Strong winds passing over sand cause it to vibrate. The excited vibrating particles create a negative charge, causing more and more particles to be dislodged and join the blowing dust
  3. Creep. Large sand particles are blown sometimes very long distances along the ground

All three types of sandstorms can pose a threat to aircraft in or approaching the vicinity. They not only reduce visibility, but pose significant risk of mechanical failure if ingested in aircraft systems such as the pitot static system, whose vital functions determine speed and altitude of the aircraft. Dust can also cause corrosion and blockage in the conditioning packs that provide fresh air to the cabin.

Precautions for Areas Prone to Dust Storms

While dust storms are a particular hazard in North Africa’s Sahara Desert, they are found in other geographic areas, including North America’s desert Southwest. The Phoenix airport has repeatedly experienced the severity of the desert “haboob,” a severe desert dust storm created by strong winds that form during thunderstorms, which are common in the desert Southwest. Loose silt and clay are swept up from the ground by downdrafts that rapidly pull cold air from the thunderstorm toward the warmer ground. The desert air is so warm that precipitation may be entirely evaporated before it hits the ground, further intensifying the dry dust storm. Dust clouds can form and move rapidly across the terrain, affecting visibility for vehicles on the ground as well as aircraft.

This haboob was filmed enveloping the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport  in August 2018.

Risk to Aircraft and Aviation Operations from Blowing Dust and Wind

The increasing frequency of dust storms and severe wind events puts aircraft at risk, even when they are on the ground. Aircraft exposed to the elements can be damaged by blowing debris. And, during a dust storm, the intake systems, engines, paint and anywhere dust can lodge itself can cause expensive and dangerous damage to critical systems. Damage may be severe enough to keep the aircraft out of operation, delaying flights, cutting into profit margins and affecting critical on-time performance. Damage that is not found can cause malfunction in the air, posing danger to pilot, crew and passengers.

As severe weather events continue to increase in frequency, and drought and desert-like conditions spread to formerly temperate areas, it’s more and more important for aircraft owners and operators to plan for protecting the fleet from unnecessary exposure to dangerous weather events like dust storms, whether that requires short-term protective hangars, or more permanent solutions.

Fabric Aircraft Shelters: Shielding Against Dust and Wind

clamshell fabric aircraft shelter at sunset

Whether aircraft operators have one or many aircraft in their fleet, being prepared and aware of the increasing frequency of dust storms in some areas can help keep operations on track and aircraft in top flying condition. For aircraft operations and storage in areas subject to dust storms and high winds, an increasingly practical solution is the use of tension fabric aircraft shelters. Using an extremely strong, highly engineered, extruded aluminum frame, the structure’s strength, stability and wind resistance are reinforced by tensioning high-grade PVC fabric horizontally across the reinforced skeleton. The resulting taut and curved structure sheds rain, snow and wind, as well as shielding the personnel and equipment inside from dust storms.

Clear Span Fabric Aircraft Shelters

Tension fabric aircraft shelters are clear span or open space with no interior columns and wide enough to accommodate even large aircraft. They can be configured in any length required, so they are perfect to shelter one or many aircraft, large or small. These versatile structures are in use for a variety of aviation shelter needs including MRO, extreme climate storm protection, and short or long term storage. They are built to handle harsh climates, from heat and dust, to ice and snow. They are used across the aviation industry to protect investments in airplanes and helicopters, whether private, business, commercial or military. Fabric aviation shelters are easily installed at airstrips and airports from single plane, small, remote outposts, to carrier operations at major airports, even oil and gas field or other remote operating bases.


Tension fabric aircraft shelters are an affordable alternative to traditional structures. These hangars can be quickly installed, relocated or removed, making them highly versatile for multiple uses in a multifaceted industry. Fabric hangars can be leased for short or long term use, helping operators avoid capital expenditure commitments and to help operators cope with the rapidly changing logistics of aviation today.

Aircraft protected from dust and flying debris enjoy lower repair costs and are more quickly available for service once the skies clear. And, since the interior of the structures can be fully lit and climatized, maintenance crews can keep working in any weather, day or night, to keep the aircraft in service. Tension fabric aircraft hangar space can be an important value-added tool to protect investments in costly equipment and keep operations running smoothly.

For more information on how an Allsite tension fabric aircraft hangar can help protect your investment, contact our knowledgeable staff today.


Author Peter Milligan

Peter Milligan is a Business Development Manager at Allsite, with degree in Psychology from Lafayette College and 14 years experience in matching customers with Tension Fabric Structure solutions. Read more about Peter and the rest of our team at

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