Flight Diversion

There may come 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. Risk management procedures become a priority during any type of flight diversion and should be used the pilot. For example, the hazards of inadvertent VFR into IMC involve a risk that the pilot can identify and assess and then mitigate through a pre-planned or in-flight diversion around hazardous weather. 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. Risk management is explained in greater detail in the Aeronautical Decision-making category.


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.

The course to an alternate destination 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 destination. 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 destination, 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 destination. Attempting to complete all plotting, measuring, and computations involved before diverting to the alternate destination 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.

Flight Literacy Recommends

Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook -Flight Literacy recommends Rod Machado's products because he takes what is normally dry and tedious and transforms it with his characteristic humor, helping to keep you engaged and to retain the information longer. (see all of Rod Machado's Products).