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Everything You Need to Know About Flight Diversions

21 Jun, 2024

Flight Diversions

So you want to know more about flight diversions? There’s a lot to learn about flight diversions and few trusted sources offering information on the subject.

What exactly is a flight diversion? What are the causes for flight diversion? What are standard flight diversion terms, and what do they mean? We’ll be covering the ground on flight diversions so you can learn everything there is to know about them without having to scour the internet.

Read on to discover everything about diverting flights, when they happen, why they happen, and what you can expect if your plane is forced to divert.

Need a reliable partner on the ground and in the sky? JBS has got you covered!


What Is a Flight Diversion Procedure?

A flight diversion procedure is used when an aircraft experiences an emergency that requires it to deviate from its original course.

There are many reasons why a plane may need to divert from its original course and quite a few things to understand about diverting flights.

The first is that there are some things in aviation you cannot predict. However, you need to plan ahead for them nonetheless.

Many circumstances might require a flight diversion, such as unfavorable weather conditions, technical issues, engine failure, malfunctioning systems, emergencies, closed airports, blocked runways, and bad preflight planning.

The pilot must efficiently direct the plane to land safely at another airport, whatever the situation. During these situations, risk mitigation procedures are prioritized for safety reasons.

Pilots must follow a pre-planned or in-flight procedure according to the situation with consideration to safety factors. They may divert their plane in the sky or on the ground, and they must file the appropriate flight plan at least 45 minutes before the plane’s scheduled departure.

A pilot has the right to refuse reroutes and the ability to choose an alternate landing location. In return, pilots must inform air traffic control (ATC) when they cannot accept a reroute due to safety factors or insufficient fuel load.

If an acceptable route is not found for the rerouted aircraft, the pilots may request a delay on the ground until a safe flight becomes feasible.


What Are the Causes of Flight Diversion?

    • Adverse Weather Conditions
    • Closure of Airport
    • Change of Mission
    • Passenger Emergencies
    • Medical Emergencies
    • Aircraft Emergencies
    • Exceeding Aircraft Limitations
    • Exceeding Personal Minimums
    • Staff Strikes
    • Fuel Shortage
    • Technical Defects
    • Engine Failure
    • Bad Preflight Planning

Standard Flight Diversion Terms and What They Mean

 

  • Routing

Routes are designed to ensure safe operations by keeping flights within the flow of air traffic, steering them clear of special-use airspace and areas where aircraft cannot fly.

Route information is wildly accessible as it is available from various sources. You can find the most up-to-date route information in the FAA advisories and NOTAMs.

  • Rerouting

Rerouting is a process that allows flights to move away from or go into specific airspace.

Reroutes are implemented mainly by Air Traffic Management (ATM) due to severe weather conditions or to allow safe operations through active military airspace, among other reasons.

  • Severe Weather Avoidances Plans

Severe Weather Avoidances Plans (SWAPs) are routes explicitly developed for safe operations in areas susceptible to air traffic flow disruption caused by thunderstorms.

Every air traffic control facility has its strategy for dealing with severe weather events, and that strategy becomes part of its routine operations plan.

 

What Is a VFR Diversion Procedure?

A VFR Diversion Procedure is used when the aircraft is intended to operate under favorable weather conditions. As such, pilots should consider safety factors and avoid flight paths with adverse weather like thunderstorms, clouds, heavy precipitation, and low visibility conditions. 

The Steps for a VFR Diversion Procedure Are:

    • Noting the current time
    • Verifying the aircraft’s current position
    • Determining a suitable alternate destination
    • Turning in the appropriate direction to an estimated heading considering airspace, obstructions, and adverse weather conditions.
    • Determining the distance and compass heading to the alternate landing destination before turning towards it
    • Selecting a landmark to aid in navigating the new route of flight
    • Calculating the Estimated Time En Route (ETE), Estimated Arrival Time (ETA), and required fuel.

What Is an IFR Diversion Procedure?

An IFR Diversion Procedure is an upgrade from traditional ground-based navigational aid to a new computer-based system capable of plotting a suitable flight path for almost any situation.

The Steps for an IFR Diversion Procedure Are:

    • Determining a suitable alternate landing location
    • Requesting clearance
    • Executing the new clearance

What Happens After a Flight Diversion?

In general, there are four different outcomes to a flight diversion. This outcome is usually decided depending on the original reason for the diversion.

  • Slight Delay

After a slight delay, the aircraft will continue on the flight path toward the original destination.

This is the most favorable resolution to a flight diversion. It is usually expected when a flight diversion occurs due to unfavorable weather, medical emergencies, or minor technical problems.

  • Transfer Flight

Any passengers on board will be transferred to the next available flight.

If the plane lands at an alternate airport, passengers and flight attendants will likely be transferred to another flight where they can continue to their original destination.

  • Replacement Flight

The aircraft’s airline will arrange for a replacement aircraft.

The aircraft’s airline might arrange a new flight path to transport passengers toward their destination.

  • Long Delay

If a long delay is expected, passengers will be compensated or given accommodations.

If it is deemed impossible to reroute passengers or put them on another flight, the responsible airline will provide the passengers with accommodations or give them some monetary compensation.


How to Choose the Best Airport to Divert to?

The pilot must select an appropriate alternate airport or landing location when a diversion is deemed necessary. A suitable alternate destination is reachable with the aircraft’s current fuel reserves, and it must allow the flying crew to take care of any issues encountered during the initial flight.

In most cases, airlines will divert their flights to an airport where they have a presence or access to the required services and additional fuel. Pilots don’t want to make an emergency landing at an underequipped airport because that will only make things harder for everyone involved.

Diverting to an underequipped airport can cause major passenger disruptions if they do not have additional fuel, jetways, stairs, and enough facilities (like customs or immigration) to handle the extra load. In emergencies, aircraft can land at any airport (military or otherwise) as long as it can accommodate its size and weight.


What Is the Operational Procedure for Unplanned Flight Diversions?

The effects of unplanned flight diversions are disastrous to the efficiency of the receiving airport. An unplanned flight diversion or emergency landing causes an increase in airport activity, which compromises the efficiency and punctuality of regular airline operations.

Ground handling operators are also compromised as they are subject to additional workload due to the increased number of airplanes requiring servicing. The number of available personnel at an airport is carefully planned to accommodate the original schedule.

The additional workforce is minimal because they are limited in scope to safety and operational concerns. The number of available ground handlers at an airport is critical in the case of a flight diversion because failing to adapt to increased demands could delay flights and cause further disruptions.


What Is Involuntary Rerouting Under Irregular Operations?

Normal landings are near impossible in an emergency, so proper coordination must be maintained between ground operations, flight operations, reservation centers, and ticketing centers. When a disruption occurs, the airlines must ensure that every passenger is rebooked and re-ticketed.

Airlines must provide compensation if the travel plans change, either due to schedule changes or operational issues. For example, a delay caused by weather conditions can affect a carrier’s ability to operate within their scheduled routes. A carrier’s primary objective is to satisfy its customers, so any delays should be communicated to them in advance.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an international trade association, provides guidelines for airlines regarding sharing these events. These recommendations include informing travelers through email, phone calls, and online messages.

 

What Are the Errors That Can Occur During a Flight Diversion?

Flight diversions are unpredictable and undesirable for airlines, pilots, flight attendants, and passengers. Pilots must not decide to divert a flight hastily; they must also recognize when a diversion is necessary without pushing the situation. Flight diversions have complicated operational procedures, so even the most experienced pilots can make mistakes.


Common Flight Diversion Errors Include

    • Failing to note the time
    • Failing to estimate the required fuel for diversion
    • Failing to calculate different variables
    • Failing to turn towards an estimated heading