Creating a Diversion. (Part Two)
By Owen Zupp.
.....without further delay.
Creating a Diversion.
When it becomes apparent that the flight is about to differ from the original plan you may choose to buy some time as you get your cockpit in order and your mind around the decision-making process. There’s already a time saving if you’ve been smart and reviewed what is available at each of those circled airports as you’ve flown past and possibly even made some notes. Notwithstanding there is still much to consider, so throttling back to a lower power setting will both save fuel and offer some reprieve in terms of time, particularly if you’ve already flown passed your best option. If the weather is less than ideal, extending a stage of flap may be a wise consideration too, offering a lower stall speed and greater forward visibility. Just remember to reconfigure to the appropriate cruise configuration once you’ve commenced the diversion.
When the decision is made, start with an approximation of the new track, the distance and time interval. This can be refined once you are pointing in the right direction, but the priority must initially lie with setting a new course. In the first instance, circle where you are and note the time, circle where you are going and draw a line between the two points. Estimate the new track and measure off a distance using your ruler, or a suitably marked pencil. Using you aircraft’s ‘nil wind’ speed, work out a time interval and then factor in a few minutes if you’re astute enough to appreciate that there will be a headwind or tailwind. Do you have enough fuel to fly the new interval and arrive with reserves intact? If the answer is “no”, then you’ll need to seek out a nearer option. If the answer is “yes”, then let’s starting diverting the aeroplane without further ado.
Once established on the new heading. Aviate, navigate and then offer a little communication. Advise Flight Service of your flight plan amendment and your new destination and ETA. This is just a brief, initial transmission as there is still work to be done; however it is also important to let people know if you have diverged from your flight plan so that they know where to start looking in the case of some further drama. Once they are advised, it is back to the business of refining your diversion.
There are numerous things to consider once you’re on your way, but the first efforts must be directed towards confirming the details of your initial diversion planning and refining the details thereof. Established in stable flight, check the alignment of your ‘Directional Indicator’ against the magnetic compass and verify that the heading you are flying is reasonable to take you to your new destination. Observe the planned track and see if any ground features on the chart correspond to any features outside the window as this may give an early indication of wind effect and the resulting drift. While on that topic, revisit the forecast wind, or better still, the wind you encountered prior to the diversion. Draw an arrow from that direction on your chart to assist in orientation and then calculate the drift.
With a new heading calculated, confirm the distance to run and re-calculate the ETA at the next waypoint and ultimately your destination. Make a mark at the mid-point of the sector for a gross error check of your calculations. Now, just fly the aeroplane for a while and take a breath. Manage your fuel and navigate for a period and firmly establish your new track in your mind, for it is at about this time that the initial angst of the decision-making process will start to subside.
With a clear head you can attend to the detail. Review the significant terrain in the area, the proximity of airspace and restricted areas and verify the latest weather and NOTAMs for your new route and destination. Write down the critical details and frequencies for your destination and tune any relevant navaids and GPS equipment as required and available. Always work ‘up’ from the basics, that is to say that the manual planning should come first and then the electronic wizardry brought into support the procedure. The manual calculations will give you a far more detailed appreciation of the task and terrain, whereas technology alone can lead you astray quite quickly. Between the two, safety is greatly enhanced.
When the diversion is completed and the tasks have all been attended to, make a simple review of what has just transpired. Evaluate the different stages of the process to ensure that the boxes have all been ticked. When you’re confident that the matter is well in hand, sit back and aviate as normal.
With a well planned diversion underway and the hard work done, there can at times be a tendency to let the mind wander. In the wake of all the excitement, it would be real disappointment to run a fuel tank dry or make some other fundamental error. Fall back on basic procedures. Remember, Aviate-Navigate-Communicate. You may now be headed for an unfamiliar airfield with different procedural requirements, so prepare as well as possible without eroding your primary task of managing the aeroplane.
Avoid sweating about issues that you can’t control, or that can wait. Things such as the ‘welcoming committee’ awaiting your arrival at the previously planned destination, or the fuel agent’s phone number at your new one. These things can are secondary. When you are on the ground, parked and safe, the ‘administrative’ issues can be attended to. Worrying about them prematurely can only negatively influence your original decision or subsequently erode your performance in the cockpit.
On arrival at your revised port of call, a whole new set of decisions will rear their head. Do you now continue onto your original destination? Is the weather now suitable and is there enough daylight? If I stay the night, when will I depart tomorrow? Your mind will be racing, but you won’t get hurt unless you get back in the aeroplane prematurely. Take your time and ‘if in doubt-bug out’. A diversion of this nature occurred for me on my charity flight around Australia a couple of years ago. I was aiming to arrive in Toowoomba where family and media were waiting to greet me, but as I stood on the ground at Gunnedah and scanned the skies I could not be assured of a safe outcome. Was I disappointed? Yes. But with over 16,000 hours experience in my logbook, I still easily decided that discretion was the better part of valour and tied the aircraft down for the night. A decision vindicated that evening as the rain pelted down on my hotel roof.
At some stage along the way, all aviators are confronted with the possibility of diverting. Safety must always be the overriding principle with the absolute power of veto. Pre-flight planning can assist greatly when called to make the decision to divert, but regardless of the degree of preparation, make the decision like a pilot in command. Gather the information, review the information, analyse the options, decide and evaluate the outcome. Most importantly, decide and act in an informed, measured manner.
A managed diversion is really a fairly straightforward exercise, albeit with a potentially high workload. Where it can become challenging is when the decision to divert is left too late, or if the decision is to continue in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is when a pilot can become boxed in and run out of options. Deciding early, managing the situation and playing it safe are the keys to a successful outcome. So when the flight ahead starts to raise more questions than answers, it may well be the time to start creating a diversion.