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How Do Airlines Choose Diversion Airports  
User currently offlinerwheele2 From United States of America, joined Apr 2013, 1 posts, RR: 0
Posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 6028 times:

I am writing a research paper on how airlines choose the airports they divert to. My question is what are the factors that go into how airlines pick which airports they divert to? Also, I was wondering if there is any literature on the subject already?

Thanks,

Rick

16 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineDashTrash From United States of America, joined Aug 2006, 1528 posts, RR: 2
Reply 1, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 6023 times:

Same factors that apply to any operation. Alternate weather, fuel requirements and routing, but add in the airline needing to have an operation there. Most airlines have airports that frequently are used as alternates. For CLT we'd usually use GSO, FLO, CHS, GSP, CAE, and AVL.

Trick is if there were a lot of aircraft diverting those airports would get saturated fairly quickly. The company might file AVL for us, but if we're in a line of aircraft going there it might be prudent to use a different airport. We might use TRI and be first or second for the fuel truck when the reason for the divert cleared up. GSO, CHS, and AVL can fill up quickly. It turns a 30 minute wait into an hour or better when one fuel truck has to gas up 10 airplanes they didn't plan on seeing that day. Not to mention ops getting overrun with crews getting new releases.

I know I've diverted into CHS when the filed alternate was FLO, and BDL when the filed alternate was PHL. Just because the company filed it doesn't mean you have to use it. You just need to get your dispatcher to agree on it and go.


User currently offlinee38 From United States of America, joined May 2008, 343 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 5 days ago) and read 6008 times:

rwheele2:
Generally, dispatchers will select airports that are "on-line," i.e., already served by the airline, so there will be ground staff available to support the flight, as well as company or contract maintenance, if needed, and an established fuel contractor available. Also, dispatchers will normally select airports that can support the type of aircraft involved.

However, there are also regulatory issues involved in selecting an alternate. You asked if there is any literature available with reference to alternates. I recommend you look at the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM); specifically, FAR 135.221 and 135.223 and/or FAR 91.169. Airports must meet certain weather criteria to be suitable to be designated as alternates.

e38


User currently offlineSenchingo From Germany, joined Oct 2010, 111 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 5 days ago) and read 5972 times:

The term "diversion" airport for me is a little bit misleading. Don't know if this is a usual US-term for airlines, but if there is a situation that forces you to make a diversion and land asap, i guess any pilot will take the airport that is closest to your position and can handle your aircraft.

Talking about the pre-planning (so flight plan issueing phase) though, i will assume following situation just as an example:
- Route: Northern Siberia, close to the North Pole, from South East Asia to Europe
- ETOPS operation
- Aircraft: B77W
- Situation: Any (i.e. medical emergency, engine failure etc)

With the given factors, we need to look at some points:
- The weather/visibility is not below minimum condition?
- The aerodrome is open?
- Firefighting is available in satisfying category?
- How many runways? (Only one might restrict the company minima)
- Lighting facilities for the runway all working? (If not, minima go down)
- Navigation facilites/instruments working? (If not, minima go down)
- Runway long enough for B77W with possible high weight?

As you call it "diversion airport", i'm not sure if i answered correctly here, but i would call it "ETOPS enroute alternate airport" here if all of the above points are satisfied. I have no clue which factors are taken into account for domestics/short haul flights.

As mentioned, for the pre-planning phase there are a lot of details to be taken into account, but in reality it may come down to a pilots decision to land anywhere he thinks it might be safe.

Cheers/Sen


User currently onlineKELPkid From United States of America, joined Nov 2005, 6384 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 5918 times:

A good friend of mine (the best man from my wedding) was recently on a flight IAH-AMA. They encountered 50kt winds, visibility near zero (due to blowing dust) at AMA, and diverted to...IAH   Makes sense when you think about it...they must have flight planned with 2 hours fuel + reserves.


Celebrating the birth of KELPkidJR on August 5, 2009 :-)
User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 17039 posts, RR: 66
Reply 5, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 5873 times:

Quoting Senchingo (Reply 3):

The term "diversion" airport for me is a little bit misleading. Don't know if this is a usual US-term for airlines, but if there is a situation that forces you to make a diversion and land asap, i guess any pilot will take the airport that is closest to your position and can handle your aircraft.

The usual term is alternate in the US as well. That is, you select and file an alternate, but you divert to it.



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 6, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 5744 times:

Quoting e38 (Reply 2):
However, there are also regulatory issues involved in selecting an alternate. You asked if there is any literature available with reference to alternates. I recommend you look at the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM); specifically, FAR 135.221 and 135.223 and/or FAR 91.169. Airports must meet certain weather criteria to be suitable to be designated as alternates.

The proper regulation is 121.619, and 121.621. Part 91 is superceded by 135, which is superceded by part 121, and since we're talking about airlines in general here, part 121 would only apply.

Airports not only have to meet weather minimums, but also proper firefighting capability, and available approaches---even in VFR weather---among other things.

Also, the airport has to be approved for use. You can't just plan on using just ANY airport.

Quoting e38 (Reply 2):
Generally, dispatchers will select airports that are "on-line," i.e., already served by the airline, so there will be ground staff available to support the flight, as well as company or contract maintenance, if needed, and an established fuel contractor available. Also, dispatchers will normally select airports that can support the type of aircraft involved.

Usually, that's only the case when the probability for diversion is high. Otherwise, a "paper" alternate, that meets minimal operational requirements is filed, as the probability of going there is low.

When it comes to an emergency diversion, everything goes out the window, and the flight just needs an airport with a runway long enough for the plane to stop (and that might include Uncle Bob's Backwoods Flying Strip.)

Quoting DashTrash (Reply 1):

Trick is if there were a lot of aircraft diverting those airports would get saturated fairly quickly. The company might file AVL for us, but if we're in a line of aircraft going there it might be prudent to use a different airport

The idea is to spreadout the diversion load when at all possible. As Dash says, a large number of airplanes diverting to an airport can swamp it, possibly causing even more delays. Sometimes, it can't be helped.

Quoting DashTrash (Reply 1):
I know I've diverted into CHS when the filed alternate was FLO, and BDL when the filed alternate was PHL. Just because the company filed it doesn't mean you have to use it. You just need to get your dispatcher to agree on it and go.

Of course it also has to be a LOGICAL reason as well. Going to XYZ because you're at the controls and feel that it's better, despite my protests, is not going to be viewed favorably by management, or the feds.

[Edited 2013-04-03 03:07:17]


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User currently offlineTW From Germany, joined Jul 2011, 62 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 6 hours ago) and read 5692 times:

Quoting KELPkid (Reply 4):
A good friend of mine (the best man from my wedding) was recently on a flight IAH-AMA. They encountered 50kt winds, visibility near zero (due to blowing dust) at AMA, and diverted to...IAH  Makes sense when you think about it...they must have flight planned with 2 hours fuel + reserves.

A pilot friend of mine once flew FLN to POA and diverted to GIG. Brazilian airports are operating over/near full capacity and when one airport closes it´s not always easy finding another airport close by where you can land.


User currently offlineMSJYOP28Apilot From United States of America, joined Jul 2009, 221 posts, RR: 1
Reply 8, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 5660 times:

I am a current Part 121 dispatcher. Since we plan the alternates, I guess I am probably one of the better primary sources.

The most important criteria is legality. An alternate airport must meet alternate minimums. It must meet or exceed alternate minimums for the entire flight up until the time it is scheduled to arrive at the alternate. Alternate minimums are determined by the one navaid, two navaid rule. If you have an airport with one ILS that is CAT I visibility 1/2 and DH 200 ft you must add 400 ft and 1 mile. This becomes your TAF weather minimum: 600 ft ceiling and 1.5 sm vis. If you have a second ILS to another runway, reciprocal being legal to use, that has landing minimums of 200 and 1/2 you add 200 feet and 1/2 mile to the most restrictive of the two minimums. The lowest it can be is 400 foot ceiling and 1sm visibility. This is same protocol when using VOR, NBD, or circling minimums. Most airlines are not allowed to use RNAV approaches to derive alternate minimums. Winds must within limits including gusts. If the reciprocal has a 11 knot tailwind and your limit is 10 you cant use the reciprocal for alternate mins since the wind exceeds limitations.

Also, the Jepp plates specify that certain approaches need a tower operating to be used for alternate mins. Late at night, it can make finding a legal alternate difficult at times.

For a passenger airline, the alternate airport must be in the airlines C70 authorized city list. Diversions can and do happen to cities not listed in the C70 but this is not optimal and can result in FAA certificate action against the pilot and dispatcher depending on the circumstances. If it is a weather issue where fuel wasn't properly planned then it can be really bad for both the pilot and dispatcher. If it is a mechanical or other type emergency, it isn't optimal but is considered legal under emergency authority. Airlines wont have performance numbers for offline stations so it will take a call to performance engineering to get performance numbers. In IFR conditions, airlines wont normally even have approach plates for offline airports not in C70 so it makes an offline diversion in IFR very treacherous.

For regionals and also majors, fuel costs and weight and balance play a role in alternate choice. Generally, the closest legal alternate is chosen. A smart dispatcher goes against the fuel policy and files the farthest alternate he can fit on with the fuel and payload limits. This gives more hold fuel since you can amend the release for a closer alternate. At a regional, you bump passengers on a full flight when a major storm system moves through a region. It is not unheard of for MSP to be used for ORD, ELP for DFW, STL even for JFK just to find a legal alternate. Every dispatcher has a story about how far he needed to go to find an alternate that is legal.

The one loophole airlines use is you can change your destination enroute. If you file CMH as your YUL alternate due to weather constraints, you can divert to BTV or SYR simply by amending the destination on the dispatch release from YUL to SYR. As long as SYR has landing minimums and you still have the gas to get to CMH it is legal.

The actual diversion airport can in many times be an operational decision enroute made between the pilot and dispatcher that is not pre-planned on the original dispatch release. When actually diverting, the first choice is the closest. If unavailable you go to the next closest. Sometimes, you will pick the actual diverting point and divert before you run out of hold fuel so you can be the first in line for a gas n go diversion. When alternates fill up, you go to the one with the least amount of planes unless you have no choice.

There is a big difference at an airline between an alternate and a diversion. An alternate can be a simple paper alternate whether it is required or not. The only time an alternate is required is if the forecast ceiling is less 2000 ft and the visibility is forecast to be less than 3 sm one hour before and one hour after the scheduled arrival time. Some companies require an alternate for crosswinds and braking action. If a flight is longer than 6 hours, an alternate is required. Ironically, many diversions happen due to thunderstorms but many times the actual alternate is not legally required even though the chance for a diversion is very high. There is no legal requirement for an alternate with forecast thunderstorms. Thus, you will see many alternates given even when not legally required but logically, a good dispatcher with good judgment is putting an alternate one when he sees TSRA, VCTS, or CB in a TAF or METAR.

Most diversion events don't occur when the weather is forecast to be bad. When the weather is forecast to be bad, typically extra hold fuel is given. You may get a diversion here and there but the most widespread diversions happen when the weather is worse than forecast or unexpectedly bad. You aren't carrying as much extra gas so when you get anything more than one or two turns in holding with an EFC 40 mins away, you aren't going to be able to hold so you divert. When the weather is forecast to be bad, it may take 6-10 turns of holding before diverting. Typically, holds wont last that long so most will be able to get in.

In convective weather, you get re-routes from ATC around the weather. This can cause diversions because you need extra gas for the longer route and if the same weather hits the arrival airport, your hold fuel can be cut down to as much as 100% leaving you with not a lot if any time to wait the weather out at a holding point.

Another factor in choosing diversion point is fuel stop. If the headwinds are too strong, you may have a pre-planned diversion which is in actuality two destinations legally but to the passengers it is a diversion. Occasionally, winds aloft will be stronger than the flight planning computer we use in dispatch forecasts and unplanned diversions can result due to the unplanned increase in enroute burn.

Most airlines have lists of alternates they don't want dispatchers diverting to. Typically, these are airports with limited customer service options or logistics or they can be an airport that is undergoing construction and doesn't have enough parking spots.

Some diversion points are MEL driven. If the APU is deferred, you can just divert anywhere. If your APU is deferred and the divert point cant hot re-fuel (most places cant), the plane is pumpkin without a working airstart. This will effectively ground the plane until maintenance comes to fix the APU.

For crossing mountains and oceans, you have driftdown and ETOPS alternates. These are single engine alternates in case of the loss of an engine.

For maintenance diversions, some are by the aircraft manual dictated by nearest suitable airport. The closest C70 city is used though it sometimes is offline if it is serious enough an issue. Customer service availability isn't a consideration in these diversions and even the availability of maintenance isn't though this depends on how the airlines POI or DSI interprets the regulations.

The alternate choice is only a small portion of the dispatch job. All these decisions to make for poverty level wages lol. Its the life of a dispatcher.


User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 9, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 5651 times:

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
A smart dispatcher goes against the fuel policy and files the farthest alternate he can fit on with the fuel and payload limits.

A smart dispatcher will follow his/her company's fuel policies, accounting for known operational constraints, and use his/her experience and knowledge as a basis for the mission at hand.

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
At a regional, you bump passengers on a full flight when a major storm system moves through a region.

That depends on the aircraft...

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
There is no legal requirement for an alternate with forecast thunderstorms. Thus, you will see many alternates given even when not legally required but logically, a good dispatcher with good judgment is putting an alternate one when he sees TSRA, VCTS, or CB in a TAF or METAR.

Extra contingency fuel in lieu of a pre-determined alternate works well, too. It allows more flexibility, IMHO.



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User currently offlineTheCol From Canada, joined Jan 2007, 2039 posts, RR: 6
Reply 10, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 4 days 3 hours ago) and read 5627 times:

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
A smart dispatcher goes against the fuel policy and files the farthest alternate he can fit on with the fuel and payload limits.

I disagree. A smart dispatcher would identify opportunities to save the company money on fuel, as long as it's legal and operationally safe to do so.

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
This gives more hold fuel since you can amend the release for a closer alternate.

If a hold or other arrival delays are anticipated. If not, then I don't see the point of adding a bunch of extra fuel that isn't required. The only exception I could see to that would be tankering cheap fuel at a hub airport.



No matter how random things may appear, there's always a plan.
User currently offlineSKC From United States of America, joined Oct 2012, 103 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 5245 times:

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 8):
A smart dispatcher goes against the fuel policy and files the farthest alternate he can fit on with the fuel and payload limits.

You'll be doing a lot of carpet dances in front of your Mgr if that's your standard practice. Fuel policies, while not always the best option, are in place for a reason.

If I can carry 45 mins cont and MKE for MDW, yet I'm planning 45 mins and STL, I'm just burning up my own profit sharing. If there's a line baring down on MKE, that's a different thing, but if not, it's crazy to load up the gas just because.



ALL views, opinions expressed are mine ONLY and are NOT representative of those shared by Southwest Airlines Co.
User currently offlinerfields5421 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 7607 posts, RR: 31
Reply 12, posted (1 year 5 months 2 weeks 5 hours ago) and read 5191 times:

One factor which generates threads on Civil Aviation frequently is descent timing / distance for emergency type diversions.

We see threads about "the plane was over GRB when the emergency happened, why didn't they land there rather than diverting to ORD"

It takes about 95-120 nm for an aircraft at cruise to descend to landing altitude.

Often an emergency diversion isn't a "get on the ground immediately" situation. In that case using the requirements for descent to get to an airport with better facilities that is located a distance away is often a better option than using that distance to circle the closest airport as the plane descends.


User currently offlineMSJYOP28Apilot From United States of America, joined Jul 2009, 221 posts, RR: 1
Reply 13, posted (1 year 5 months 1 week 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 4858 times:

Fuel is your friend. Airlines try to cut costs in the wrong places. I cant tell you how many times on supposed good weather days I have had flights capped as much as 10,000 feet below normally filed altitude by ATC. Or those countless days where there are no turbulence forecasts and your flight you filed at FL360 is now cruising at FL200-FL280 to avoid it. The fuel policy would never allow that flight to fly that low and still make his destination. Sometimes, passengers get rough rides because flying lower isnt an option. Im sure the passengers were happy not to spend the entire flight being tossed around because I added the extra gas or filed the flights lower than the fuel policy stated.

I cant tell you how many times after a flight is departed with destination VFR and only a few isolated storms in between or on a different arrival altogether getting a re-route to timbuktu before going to the destination. Without that extra gas, they divert which costs the company way more than extra fuel I gave.

The closest alternate available is great for fuel numbers but sucks because typically the weather the destination is having so is the alternate. By regulation, the alternate MUST meet alternate minimums the entire flight. If it goes below alternate minimums in flight, you will lose that hold fuel at best or being doing an FAA carpet dance to explain why your captain had to exercise his emergency authority since you didnt have fuel to amend for a different alternate.

When the weather is bad and passenger payload isnt an issue, having the extra gas is vital. Diversions not only costs more in gas but they throw everything off downline. Diverting to the closest alternate especially for a hub airport sucks most of the time. I cant tell you how many times I have had crews want to go to MKE or ORD or GSP for ATL and spend hours in that diversion point because mainline takes precedence and half the mainline fleet diverted there or because there is weather now at the diverting point and you get stuck in the diverting station all night long. That plane being stuck at the diverting point holds up everything downline and causes crew scheduling issues when that crew starts to time out on duty hours. If they had gone to alternate I selected, they would have been in and out with a quick gas and go. The crews that do that are so thankful they arent stuck waiting behind all these mainline flights. Once the weather in the hub clears, they are off while the ones that diverted to MKE are calling me complaining about the station agents taking so long to handle the mainline diversions.

Other dispatchers take way more diversions and have pilots calling their desk all day asking for more gas. My desk is quiet because I plan for the worst case instead of the best case. I dont BS my pilots like some do and paint a rosey picture of bad weather just to try to convince a pilot to take a flight. The extra gas may mean more time in a holding pattern but that is much better than having an entire bank divert. The people most thankful for the extra gas are the dispatchers taking the passdown from me. It means during their shift, they dont have to deal with tons of extra calls and diversions right when they are starting their day and getting things set up. The same dispatchers that follow the fuel policy religiously are the ones that get upset when the guy passing down to them followed the fuel policy.

I still remember having a bunch of flights going into our ATL hub. Thunderstorms hit ATL. Everyone was diverting. Except my flights. Mine held well over 60 minutes and made it in while everyone else was sitting at diversion points waiting in line for re-fueling. That day the guy I passed down to and the company managers were thankful they didnt divert and throw everything off downline. The same occurred for one of my flights going into the EWR hub. They held for 45 mins and then go re-routed way off the flight plan and still had gas to hold and go to an alternate. My aircraft sitting on the ground at the outstations had the taxi fuel to wait out the groundstops that kept rolling and the subsequent re-routes when they were released from the stop. Everyone else was taking diversions and gate returns for more gas.

The only thing I try not to do is bump revenue and non rev payload. Saves me the phone call and extra work when people want to move gas around to take everyone. I may take a diversion in this case but its worth it so everyone can go to where they want. I only bump when I legally have to. Then again, Ive only worked for regionals and we have more weight critical situations than at mainline.

Ive done fuel carpet dances before. I just know how to defend myself when I do. I would much rather give the gas and avoid all the problems that come with being in a fuel starved situation wishing I had added that extra gas.


User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 14, posted (1 year 5 months 1 week 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 4825 times:

Quoting MSJYOP28Apilot (Reply 13):

That's a MUCH better explaination than your previous post of "Add as much fuel as possible---BECAUSE I CAN."

As I said, take into the current known information, and use it to plan properly. There's absolutely ZERO reason to just top off the tanks for the hell of it.

As for your point that "the closest suitable alternate is just as crappy as the destination"? Sure, it will be---if your airport is right next door---however, that's usually NOT the case at all! Plus, weather is dynamic! It moves!

Also, I don't know ANYONE who's done a carpet dance for the PIC delcaring a fuel emergency. Plus you're not going to get called to the carpet based on something completely unforeseen, and out of your control if you had planned the flight according to all known information in the first place.



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User currently offlineScooter01 From Norway, joined Nov 2006, 1204 posts, RR: 8
Reply 15, posted (1 year 5 months 1 week 3 days 20 hours ago) and read 4806 times:
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Just a quick question;
-are people comforts (such as food, lodging etc.) considered for the alternate destinations?

The reason I'm asking is that back in the 60s, SABENA did some flights transporting Norwegian UN personell to and from Gaza ,and once there was a flight supposed to land at GEN (then a military airfield, now known as OSL) but due to fog it was decided to land it at RYG instead.
When the reception party waiting at GEN(buses, trucks etc.and the outgoing personell) arrived at RYG they found a DC-6 sitting there, waiting to be unloaded, but there were no stairs to get the people off or on the plane....
The stairs were chained and padlocked to a fence and somebody was frantically trying to find something to free them, and finally someone came with a bolt-cutter....

OK., this was a military charter, and it was the military -who chartered the plane, that decided to divert it to RYG which was a military airbase at the time instead of sending the machine to FBU which was fine weathervice and had lots of stairs and other support-materiell available.

The flight-crew ended up spending the night at our house, since my father was the SABENA-rep in Norway at the time...


Scooter01



"We all have a girl and her name is nostalgia" - Hemingway
User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 16, posted (1 year 5 months 1 week 3 days 20 hours ago) and read 4799 times:

Quoting Scooter01 (Reply 15):
-are people comforts (such as food, lodging etc.) considered for the alternate destinations?

Depending on what's going on, no, since there's usually plenty of hotels around airports capable of handling the demand. However, in extreme situations, such as sport events, or stranded passengers due to extreme weather, then hotel rooms might be scarce, so airlines will try to avoid those cities if they can.



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