Choosing Alternates & ETPs: Part 1 – Maximizing your Options
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on choosing alternates and ETPs for your flight.
Some regions of the world are more challenging than others when pre-planning for airport alternates and equal time points (ETPs). While you may not always have access to full services support and 4th-party services at these locations, the primary consideration must always be safety and ability to get easily into and out of these locations.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Alternates vs. ETPs
While airport alternates are often used for weather diversions, landings at ETPs are usually only in cases of active emergencies. Thus, the threshold for choosing ETPs is typically lower than for alternates. In both cases, you’ll want runway length/condition suitable for your aircraft type as well as acceptable weather minimums. However, standards are usually lower for ETPs. For example, you may specify weather minimums of 800/200 for an alternate, but just 500/100 for an ETP. For any named alternate you’ll want to ensure the airport is an airport of entry (AOE), that it’s open and has customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) services. Such factors, however, are less critical for ETP choices. When using an ETP you’re usually facing a significant emergency – loss of pressurization, loss of an engine, or a severe medical emergency – and the primary goal is finding a safe place to land, without delay.
2. Legal authority to use an alternate
When choosing an alternate it’s important that the airport be open at the time you’re in the area. In most cases, however, it’s not a requirement to advise local airport authorities and/or ground handlers that you’ve listed them as an alternate. However, at some locations – and this is the case with Bangladesh – airport authorities want to know, in advance, if you’ve listed one of their airports as an alternate or ETP. For domestic operations within Russia, operators must specify alternates in country and not list foreign alternates. For example, if you’re flying to St Petersburg (ULLI) from outside Russia, you may use Helsinki (EFHK) as an alternate. But, if you’re operating domestically within Russia your named alternate must be in Russia. Geopolitical considerations come into play when considering alternates and ETPs. It’s unwise, these days, to consider alternates in Eastern Ukraine, Libya or Somalia for example. Be mindful that military airports in China and Russia cannot be used as alternates. Third-party providers, in general, will not name foreign military bases as alternates unless a client specifically requests this and an agreement is in place so that the airport can be considered a useable alternate.
3. Legal authority to use ETPs
In emergency situations operators have almost complete flexibility in terms of where to land. Military bases, including Diego Garcia (FJDG) and Ascension Island (FHAW) will allow ETP landings, but do not allow their locations to be used as alternates. Still, there are assorted considerations and cautions to keep in mind. If you’re diverting to a foreign military base be sure you have a real emergency and that you’ve communicated this clearly to airport authorities. While you may face challenges upon landing, at least you’ll be safely on the ground. Likewise, if you need to divert to an airport in a U.S. sanctioned country, such as Iran, anticipate delays and challenges in terms of bringing in replacement parts, equipment and service personnel, along with ensuring that you are compliant with applicable sanctions. For more information, see our series on U.S. sanctioned countries.
4. Toughest areas of the world for alternates/ETPs
There are certain regions of the world where alternates and ETPs are few and far between and/or where support services and infrastructure are minimal. The South Atlantic region has only Ascension Island (FHAW) as a midpoint airport. While you may be permitted to use this location as an ETP, you may not use it as an alternate. Likewise, the Southern India and Pacific oceans have limited good options in terms of alternates and ETPs. In certain regions, such as Northeastern Russia alternates can be a great distance away. Closest alternates to Petropavlovsk (UHPP) are Magadan (UHMM) and Khabarovsk (UHHH) at 480 NM and 922 NM respectively. Meanwhile, recommended alternates for Bermuda (TXKF) are Atlantic City (KACY) and Nantucket (KACK), at about 700 NM away. In the Southern Pacific, between Hawaii and Australia, you start running out of good options and face such issues as narrow or coral covered runways. For operations to Tahiti (NTAA) nearby Bora Bora (NTTB) can be used as an ETP, but the closest official alternate is Rarotonga (NCRG) at 800 NM away.
5. “Island reserve” alternatives
In cases where a particular region can be socked in due to weather, and useable alternates are a great distance away, operators may list two hours or so of fuel reserves, in place of a named alternate, and circle the landing area until weather clears. Such policies, however, are dependent on particular flight department operations specifications.
Decisions on which alternates and/or ETPs to select are best made with the help and insight of an experienced 3rd-party provider. Keep in mind that your choice of airports for these purposes will be impacted both by your internal company policies and the nature of the particular flight.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which covers more considerations on picking alternates and ETPs.
If you have any questions about this article or need assistance with flight planning for your next trip, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.