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Flight Diversion

in Navigation

There probably comes a time when a pilot is not able to make it to the planned destination. This can be the result of unpredicted weather conditions, a system malfunction, or poor preflight planning. In any case, the pilot needs to be able to safely and efficiently divert to an alternate destination. Before any cross-country flight, check the charts for airports or suitable landing areas along or near the route of flight. Also, check for navigational aids that can be used during a diversion.


Computing course, time, speed, and distance information in flight requires the same computations used during preflight planning. However, because of the limited flight deck space, and because attention must be divided between flying the aircraft, making calculations, and scanning for other aircraft, take advantage of all possible shortcuts and rule-of-thumb computations.

When in flight, it is rarely practical to actually plot a course on a sectional chart and mark checkpoints and distances. Furthermore, because an alternate airport is usually not very far from your original course, actual plotting is seldom necessary.

A course to an alternate can be measured accurately with a protractor or plotter, but can also be measured with reasonable accuracy using a straightedge and the compass rose depicted around VOR stations. This approximation can be made on the basis of a radial from a nearby VOR or an airway that closely parallels the course to your alternate. However, remember that the magnetic heading associated with a VOR radial or printed airway is outbound from the station. To find the course TO the station, it may be necessary to determine the reciprocal of that heading. It is typically easier to navigate to an alternate airport that has a VOR or NDB facility on the field.

After selecting the most appropriate alternate, approximate the magnetic course to the alternate using a compass rose or airway on the sectional chart. If time permits, try to start the diversion over a prominent ground feature. However, in an emergency, divert promptly toward your alternate. Attempting to complete all plotting, measuring, and computations involved before diverting to the alternate may only aggravate an actual emergency.

Once established on course, note the time, and then use the winds aloft nearest to your diversion point to calculate a heading and GS. Once a GS has been calculated, determine a new arrival time and fuel consumption. Give priority to flying the aircraft while dividing attention between navigation and planning. When determining an altitude to use while diverting, consider cloud heights, winds, terrain, and radio reception.

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