Alternate Airports: What They Are and Why Pilots Use Them

Air travel is one of the most convenient and efficient modes of transportation in the world. However, it is also subject to unpredictable weather and unforeseen circumstances, which can affect the safety of flights. This is why pilots and aviation professionals always strive to ensure the safety of passengers and crew by taking all necessary precautions, including planning alternate airports for each flight. This article will discuss what are alternate airports and why pilots use them.

Alternate Airports
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What Are Alternate Airports?

Alternate airports, also known as diversion airports, are designated landing areas that pilots can use in case they are unable to land at their planned destination airport. The FAA requires that pilots select alternate airports that are within a certain distance of their planned destination airport and that meet certain criteria for runway lengths, proximity to the original destination, weather conditions and other operational factors. 

These criteria are designed to ensure that the alternate airports are safe and viable options for landing in case of an emergency. The alternate airports serve as backups in case of any issue or emergency that could make landing at the planned destination airport unsafe or impossible. When a suitable alternate airport has been found, the pilot then plans a route there and includes this in the flight plan.

Their Division

Alternate Airports are mainly divided into two, Regional and Cross-border alternative airports. Regional alternative airports are primarily used when a city’s main airport gets congested with more expensive landing and gate fees. They are also generally used as a cost management system by smaller airlines and passengers who would rather travel for longer times to save money. For example, the airline Ryanair uses the Charleroi airport to serve the Brussels metropolitan area.

On the other hand, Cross-border airports are used customarily because of the disparity in commute fees by countries. As a result, passengers and airlines would rather land at an airport close to the border. A major example of this involves the several Canadian cities close to the American border. Taking a flight straight to Canada is more expensive due to its higher fare structure. Consequently, many American airports have marketed themselves as viable alternatives to Canadian customers and offer connecting flights at cheaper rates.

Why Do Pilots Use Alternate Airports?

Pilots choose alternate airports for each flight to ensure that they have a safe and viable backup landing option. While airports are typically safe places for aeroplanes to land, it’s not uncommon for weather conditions such as thunderstorms, snowstorms, or fog to make a landing at the planned destination airport difficult or impossible. In addition, mechanical problems or other issues on the aircraft can also force pilots to seek out alternate airports.

Another reason for selecting alternate airports is to ensure that there is enough fuel on board the aircraft to reach another airport in case of an emergency. This is particularly important for long-haul flights that cross large bodies of water or remote areas, where there may be limited options for landing in case of an emergency.

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Bessie Obort Ofuka
Bessie Obort Ofuka
Web Editor - Experienced journalist and web editor, responsible for the Travel and Trips section segment at Travel Radar