Planning a diversion is always a high workload task which could potentially lead to overlooked items. Careful planning and consideration are paramount to a safe outcome and a successful diversion.

Often unplanned decisions, diversions require pilots to promptly establish a suitable airport for landing other than the originally intended destination. These may occur as a result of unforecasted weather, medical emergencies, security threats, inflight mechanical non-normals, among other situations. 

Considering the urgency of the scenario will determine how promptly the aircraft is required to divert. While certain emergencies are “no-time” circumstances, which require landing as soon as possible, others allow additional time for planning. It is imperative that pilots recognize the severity of the emergency, thereby realizing how much time will be available to the crew while preventing an unnecessarily rushed diversion. As always, rushing leads to omissions and potential errors.

Equally important is to carefully read and execute any checklist or quick-reference handbook. Certain checklists will indicate an immediate landing, while others will direct the pilot to land at the nearest suitable airport. Typically, the definition of “suitable airfield” is an airport with the necessary resources and equipment to support the operation of the aircraft, meeting the required weather minimums for landing, as well as the runway lengths required based on landing weight. Be sure to refer to any overweight-landings checklists, as applicable, during the planning stages of a diversion. Landing overweight may be an abnormal procedure depending on the type of aircraft being flown, requiring additional considerations. Pilots shall never assume any inflight indications are false warnings. Treat all warnings as accurate, unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise.

Diversions will vary depending upon whether an aircraft is operating under VFR or IFR. IFR diversions are more complex, given the required level of coordination with ATC. Many IFR flights are required to file an alternate prior to departure based on the destination’s forecasted weather. It is imperative to remember that filed alternates are just for planning purposes. Regulations do not require pilots to divert to a filed alternate once airborne, if any other suitable alternate becomes available later.

Fuel is a critical component of any diversion. Proper preflight planning shall include any fuel reserves for a potential diversion, in compliance with FAA minimum fuel requirements. In addition, pilots shall carry sufficient fuel to meet their own personal minimums, level of experience, among other individual factors. Declaring a fuel emergency at the appropriate time will guarantee controllers provide the pilot with the necessary level of assistance. Never hesitate to confess to ATC the state of fuel in order to reduce potential delays leading to unsafe outcomes. If operating in multi-crew environments, to verify accuracy, after an independent calculation, cross check any fuel-prediction calculations with the other crew member. Finally, never allow passenger pressures or personal circumstances to influence a diversion decision. As the pilot in command, safety drives the decision. 

While the reasons for a diversion are vast, typically a successful outcome is the result of teamwork and detailed preflight planning. In addition to the FAA fuel reserves, pilots must carry sufficient fuel to meet their personal minimums. A methodical diversion includes determining the severity of the situation, followed by an analysis of the suitable diversion airports. Not every airport will be capable of satisfying the performance requirements for landing. While certain diversions require immediate action, such as a fire or smoke, most will benefit from time for evaluating the circumstances, and slowing the operation.

SOURCEAero Crew News, November 2022
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Sergio Sovero was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and currently serves as Captain for Delta Air Lines. At the age of 17, he moved to the United States to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach, Florida. Sergio obtained a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science in 2017, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He served as a flight instructor at ERAU, while assuming several leadership roles within the Flight Department. These included: Flight Supervisor, Quality Assurance Instructor, and Assistant Training Manager. He also developed additional training material, in support of furthering the curriculum and improving the quality of instruction. Such involvement led to his recognition as “Flight Instructor of the Month” and “Excellence in Quality of Instruction” awards. Sovero holds a Gold Seal CFI, AGI and IGI ratings. Upon meeting the minimum requirements, he joined Republic Airways, where he participated as a Pilot Recruiter and Interviewer. Joining Delta Air Lines at 23 years old, he holds A-320, B-737, B-757/767, DC-9 & ERJ-170 type ratings. Sergio is an active member of the ERAU Prescott Aerospace Advisory Board (AAB). As such, he provides unique perspectives to the College of Aviation regarding curriculum development. In response to his special interest in sustainable practices, Sergio is pursuing a Master of Science in Aviation and Aerospace Sustainability (MSAS), with a Human Factors Specialization, and is passionate about mentoring the next generation of professional pilots. He resides in Atlanta, loves traveling, and frequently visits his hometown of Lima.


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