Flight diversions are unpredictable and undesirable for airlines, operators, passengers, and everything in between. It is an unfortunate fact that flight diversions deviate from the original flight plan, but they must always be planned for in advance.
There are many reasons why a flight might need to be diverted and there’s a lot to know about flight diversion procedures. Read on to learn about flight diversion procedures, when they occur, why the occur, and what you can do when your flight is diverted.
A flight diversion occurs when a pilot is unable to land an aircraft at the planned destination due to unforeseen circumstances. There are several reasons why a flight diversion might be necessary, such as unfavorable weather conditions, technical problems, system malfunctions, medical emergencies, closed airports, blocked runways, and poor preflight planning.
Whatever the situation may be, the pilot needs to efficiently divert the aircraft so that it may land safely at an alternate location. Risk management procedures are prioritized during flight diversions because they allow pilots to assess the situation and mitigate losses.
When the situation requires a diversion, pilots must follow a pre-planned or in-flight diversion procedure depending on the current conditions. The flight may be rerouted in the air or on the ground and the operator must file the flight plans with the appropriate routes before the aircraft is 45 minutes from departure.
All operators have a right to refuse a reroute and the option to select an alternative landing destination. Pilots are required to notify the controller when a reroute cannot be accepted due to safety reasons or lack of fuel. The controller will then work with the pilot to find a suitable route and if there are no suitable alternatives, the flight might be delayed on the ground until a suitable route becomes available.
Routes ensure that flights stay within the flow of traffic, steer clear of special use airspace, and avoid areas where aircraft are refusing to fly. Route information is highly accessible as it is published on several sources for different purposes. You can find the most recent route information in the FAA advisories and NOTAMs.
Rerouting ensures that an aircraft can move away from or into a particular airspace. Air Traffic Management may implement reroutes, which are common sets of routes that are designed to move aircraft off their original routes, due to severe weather conditions, passage through active military airspace, or other reasons.
A Severe Weather Avoidance Plan (SWAP) is a specific application of reroutes that is developed specifically for areas susceptible to disruption in air traffic flows due to thunderstorms. Every air traffic facility develops its own strategy for managing a severe weather event and that strategy becomes part of their daily operations plan.
Selecting an alternate landing destination should be first on a pilot’s agenda and they must choose a suitable location depending on the situation. The alternate landing location must be reachable with the plane’s current fuel reserve, and it must allow the aircraft to overcome whatever challenges required a diversion in the first place.
Usually, airlines will plan to divert to an airport where they’re present or can use the services they require because diverting to an underequipped airport can make the situation very challenging for all involved parties. In the case of an emergency, an aircraft can land at any airport that can handle its size and weight, even if that airport is a military airport. Unsuitable airports can cause a lot of passenger disruption as they might not have available jetways, stairs, customs, or immigration facilities.
What happens after a diversion usually depends on the reason for that diversion. There’s a lot of reasons why a flight might divert and lots of scenarios for handling that diversion, but usually a diversion will be handled in one of four ways.
This is the fastest possible resolution to a flight diversion and the most common response to unfavorable weather, medical emergencies, or minor technical issues.
If the aircraft manages to land at a major airport, then there’s a high likelihood that passengers might be routed towards their original destination.
The airline responsible for the diverted aircraft might arrange for another aircraft to transport passenger if there are no other flights available.
When there’s no possible way to reroute passengers or provide a replacement aircraft, then airlines will usually compensate passengers or provide them with accommodation until the situation is resolved.
Unplanned flight diversions can have disastrous effects on the efficiency and effectiveness of usual airport procedures, as the receiving airport must manage unscheduled traffic while ensure the safe landing of both diverted aircraft and scheduled departures. An unplanned flight diversion can increase airport traffic, which compromises the efficiency, punctuality, and regularity of airport procedures. The efficiency of ground handling operators is also compromised as they are subjected to additional workload resulting from the increased number of aircrafts needing to be serviced. The number of available operators at an airport is designed to meet the originally scheduled traffic and additional resources are minimal because they are considered only for safety and efficiency issues. The number of available ground handling operators is crucial in the event of a flight diversion because failing to adapt to the additional workload can result in delayed aircraft departures and knock-on delays.
Propper coordination between ground operations, flight operations, reservation centers, and ticketing centers is the key to better planning and easier passenger handling during irregular operations. Airlines have a responsibility to ensure that every passenger is rebook and re-ticketed, and they may do so on their own or in liaison with interline partners. It is a common assumption that an airline’s Interline Agreements are reflective of the commercial agreements to carry passengers beyond their network and handle flight disruptions during irregular operations. The route network of interline partners might be reduced under certain circumstances, which affects their ability to deliver passengers to their original destination. Carrier might consider entering relationships to continue providing rerouting opportunities during limited connectivity.
There are usually two situations that occur after a flight is diverted. The flight will either be resumed when the situation is resolved or the flight will be discontinued, in which case the airport and airline will arrange for passengers to reach their destination by other means. Landing and overflight permit revalidation is only necessary when a change occurs to the flight details, or the validity period expires, which means that flight diversions require permit revalidation. Urgent flight plans are often necessary when unforeseen circumstances, such as unfavorable weather, make it so that the plan can only reach its destination if it takes off immediately.
A VFR Diversion Procedure means that the aircraft is intended to operate in favorable weather conditions. Low visibility, thunderstorms, clouds, heavy precipitation, and other irregular weather conditions should be avoided.
An IFR Diversion Procedures is an evolution from the ground0based navigational aid airway system to a new and innovative computer-based system that can plot a course to the suit the requirements of almost any flight.
While it is true that the decision to divert should not be made prematurely, many pilots put themselves in an unfavorable position by pushing a situation that requires diversion. An experienced pilot knows when to fly into a common divert airport and how to smoothly transition from the original course before the situation escalates. Flight diversions are complicated and even the most experienced pilots make mistakes. The most common flight diversion errors are: