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Training Tip: Pass the test, fail the emergencyTraining Tip: Pass the test, fail the emergency

When a student pilot on a solo cross-country encountered an electrical problem, he diverted to a nearby airport but got too low on final approach, landing short and stripping off the retractable single-engine airplane’s landing gear.

In the real world, an unplanned diversion isn't complete without a successful landing. Photo by David Tulis.

According to the brief official accident report, an electrical panel on the Aero Commander 112 failed, likely distracting the student on approach to the diversion airport.

It’s an irony of flight training that despite the accident, the pilot probably had satisfied a future private pilot practical test's requirements for knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with diversion. Landing isn’t one of them.

There are infinite reasons why a pilot may need to divert from a planned route of flight. Low fuel is a perennial reason, as are system failures. Another reason to divert, as a pilot flying in Pennsylvania recently found out the hard way, is a temporary flight restriction along the route. (On being notified of the TFR for presidential travel, the Cessna 172 pilot diverted, but overshot the diversion-airport runway and wound up in a lake. Fortunately, none of the four occupants was injured.)

According to the airman certification standards, you satisfy the requirements of the diversion task on a practical test if you select “a suitable airport and route for diversion,” make “a reasonable estimate of heading, groundspeed, arrival time, and fuel consumption to the divert airport,” maintain “the appropriate altitude ±200 feet and heading ±15°”, “update/interpret weather in flight,” and explain and use “flight deck displays of digital weather and aeronautical information, as applicable.”

Going the extra mile (or more) to land may seem superfluous and costly—but is it? Finding and landing at an airport you were not expecting to need—perhaps a more constricted airport than your regular runways—is a worthy challenge. Doing so while managing a system failure adds layers of complexity that training can’t precisely simulate, but the practice will still give you an edge.

You’ll be even better prepared for a real-life diversion scenario if you fly to as many airports as possible during your flight training; before cross-countries, research every airport you will pass as a potential haven in an emergency.

Plan out how you would divert toward those airports with or without cockpit automation. When performing a practice diversion, take it all the way down to the ground, adding an arrival at a new airport to your piloting experience.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Navigation, Pilot Training and Certification, Student
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