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WN 724 PHL-FLL-JAX 30Jun Diversion. Out of gas!

WN 724 PHL-FLL-JAX 30Jun Diversion. Out of gas!

Old Jul 1, 11, 11:11 am
  #1  
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Smile WN 724 PHL-FLL-JAX 30Jun Diversion. Out of gas!

What a nice flight!

Left only 10 min late. Outside FLL, I could see we were heading north! Pilot comes on to say we're going to circle b/c FLL closed due to storm (true). After 20 minutes of holding, pilot announces we are running low on fuel and have to divert to MCO. and wait for storm to subside.

Some funny observations...
Ultimately, we arrived in FLL around 8PM. We had to sit on the taxiway for more than 40 minutes because there was no gate!

Flightaware shows this status.
30-Jun-2011 B733/Q Philadelphia Intl (KPHL) Hollywood Int'l (KFLL) 02:15PM EDT result unknown (?) n/a

But then shows,
30-Jun-2011 B733/Q Hollywood Int'l (KFLL) Jacksonville Intl (KJAX) 08:23PM EDT 09:17PM EDT 0:54
30-Jun-2011 B733/Q Orlando Intl (KMCO) Hollywood Int'l (KFLL) 06:22PM EDT 06:55PM EDT 0:33

to show the Orlando Detour.

WN Website shows:
Philadelphia, PA (PHL) 01:50 PM
Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) 04:40 PM

On time arrival!

What I find odd is how WN 724 could have only enough gas for such a short hold? And why did they just not fly to JAX to do the flight in reverse, PHL-JAX-FLL. By then, the FLl storm would have cleared.

All told, everyone took things in stride. I showed the pilot and stewards the WN status in Orlando and they laughed.
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Old Jul 1, 11, 12:05 pm
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As far as the WN website showing an on-time landing, OPNLguy gave a reasonable explanation of this in another thread:

Originally Posted by OPNLguy View Post
Aircraft times are expressed as OUT (of the gate), OFF (the ground), ON (the ground), and IN (the gate). Commonly known as "OOOI" times, they are transmitted automatically by the aircraft, and that data is ingested by numerous users and systems within an airline.

To answer your question, if I had to guess (and that's all it is), when the flight got to MCI, the ON/IN time generated were interpreted as having occurred at PHX (where expected). I don't know what policies and/or procedures may or may not be in place to augment info for flights that become "exceptions", but from purely the technical side of things I can see how it might have happened.
As far as fuel, the pilot announced at 20 minutes, but I bet he was getting info that the wait would be longer. I also think that most planes for most airlines are going out with little margin for circling.
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Old Jul 1, 11, 12:26 pm
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Originally Posted by lougord99 View Post
As far as the WN website showing an on-time landing, OPNLguy gave a reasonable explanation of this in another thread.
That's a reasonable and logical explanation, but why do other flight tracking services often times have more accurate flight information than WN's own website?
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Old Jul 1, 11, 2:46 pm
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Originally Posted by pete4abw View Post
What a nice flight!

Left only 10 min late. Outside FLL, I could see we were heading north! Pilot comes on to say we're going to circle b/c FLL closed due to storm (true). After 20 minutes of holding, pilot announces we are running low on fuel and have to divert to MCO. and wait for storm to subside.

What I find odd is how WN 724 could have only enough gas for such a short hold? And why did they just not fly to JAX to do the flight in reverse, PHL-JAX-FLL. By then, the FLl storm would have cleared.

All told, everyone took things in stride. I showed the pilot and stewards the WN status in Orlando and they laughed.
I just started two weeks of vacation today, and after fighting thunderstorms, somewhere, nearly every day for the last couple of weeks (including diverting some flights at DEN and RDU), I'd like to take a stab at this from an operational perspective.

Before I continue, I do feel the need to make an important clarification as to the "out of gas" and "low of fuel" comments, as they are ones that are commonly subject to possible misinterpretation by some other folks who may be reading here, i.e. the aircraft is possibly in some kind of imminent danger of complete fuel starvation, which isn't really the case at all. If one thinks about it, once an aircraft starts its engines, it's always running low on fuel. The proper context of the "low on fuel" comment is that the aircraft has consumed its planned fuel that had been allocated for the specific purpose of holding, and it now has to divert to its alternate to prevent fuel starvation. Neither is that to say that it might run out of fuel upon arrival at the alternate--the truth is the aircraft still has at least a 45-minute fuel reserve in its tanks, no matter where it lands.

All the requirements for a dispatcher's fuel planning are contained in FAA regs (121.639 and 121.647, for those interested). Some may recall that a 707 literally ran its tanks dry on a second approach into JFK back in January of 1990 and crashed on Long Island, but it should be noted that NTSB cited the airline involved (Avianca) for the lack of an operational control system, and their dispatcher was not required to operate under the same ruleset that U.S.-registered airline dispatchers do. One of the many things dispatchers for U.S. Part 121 airlines do is monitor fuel status throughout the duration of flight, and whenever it might be time to divert, we divert. In a former airline life, I dispatched many a MIA-JFK flight (which paralleled the last portion of the Avianca flight's route coming up from Colombia), and there were plenty of times the JFK delays got so lengthy that I had to divert my flight to IAD, DCA, BWI, PHL, ORF or another alternate in order to maintain a safe operation. Under the Part 129 rules applicable to Avianca (at the time) their dispatcher had no such responsibilities.

While non-airline folks might be tempted to assess that thunderstorms are just thunderstorms, they actually have different formation mechanisms, and different behaviors. Whether they're frontal thunderstorms, orographic thunderstorms, airmass thunderstorms, or sea breeze thunderstorms, the main aspects of them all that affect airline operations are their shape(s), orientation, distance, and movement relative to an airport and the approach/departure paths.

Summertime is airmass thunderstorm season in Florida, and when these things cook-off in the increasing heat of the day, it's hard to tell (and for the NWS to forecast) exactly where they're going to be, when, or for how long. They commonly creep along at a slow 5-10 kt (or less) speed, which means they'll take longer to move off any specific point on the ground, meaning longer delays for any aircraft trying to land or takeoff. Should a cell form directly overhead an airport, and move slowly, or become stationary, the delays go up even further. Sometimes it's not an individual cell, but an area or cluster of cells. In such cases, the delays start when the rain/winds from the first cell hit, and don't cease until the last part of the last cell in the area/cluster move off the airport. For simplicity and brevity, I'm not even going into detail about associated hazards like microbursts and low-level windshear, or ATC-related items like ground stops for flights yet to depart for the impacted airport.

When it comes to airport delays, the worst situation is when the orientation of the area or even line of the weather is the same as the weather's movement. For example, if there was a line of thunderstorms 60 miles long that formed up SW of MCO, and the cells were moving from SW-NE at 20 mph, that means once that lead cell starts hitting MCO the airport will be impacted for about 3 hours. This is called "train echoing" or "training" and it's tantamount to beimg on a set of RR tracks and getting hit by the lead locomotive and every subsequent rail car in the train. (As an aside, this was the weather situation in Texas a few years back that created the huge delays that Kate Hanni found herself caught in..) Continuing with the MCO example above, if this situation developed suddenly (as sometimes happens) and an aircraft was arriving there, they could very well divert after only 20 minutes of holding even though they were capable of holding longer, but not as long as 3 hours.

As far as your original question as to why they only held for 20 minutes, I wasn't working Florida in the last couple of weeks (my storms were elsewhere) so I can't attest to what was down there at the time. That said, I suspect some of the factors I've previously mentioned came into play.

Last edited by OPNLguy; Jul 1, 11 at 8:32 pm Reason: typos and grammar
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Old Jul 1, 11, 3:09 pm
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OPNLguy, I love your explanations. I am a plane geek and suspect many others here are also.

Originally Posted by OPNLguy View Post
Some may recall that a 707 literally ran its tanks dry on a second approach into JFK back in January of 1990 and crashed on Long Island, but it should be noted that NTSB cited the airline involved (Avianca) for the lack of an operational control system, and their dispatcher was not required to operate under the same ruleset that U.S.-registered airline dispatchers do.
If I remember correctly, there was also an issue with the pilot not understanding the terms that are used in the US airspace. Several times he told controllers that he was running low on fuel - but never used the magic phrase 'I have a fuel emergency' or something to that effect. If he had used the correct phrase, they would have landed him immediately rather than soon.
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Old Jul 1, 11, 3:22 pm
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Originally Posted by lougord99 View Post
If I remember correctly, there was also an issue with the pilot not understanding the terms that are used in the US airspace. Several times he told controllers that he was running low on fuel - but never used the magic phrase 'I have a fuel emergency' or something to that effect. If he had used the correct phrase, they would have landed him immediately rather than soon.
True, but the lack of an operational control system was first item under "Contributing Factors", and ahead of the ATC and language issues. Had their system been as functional as our here in the US, the aircraft never would have been north of the DC area, and in any position where ATC/language issues could have occured as they did. Their captain was flying and the F/O was working the radios, and while he told him (in Spanish, IIRC) to declare an emergency, something was lost in the translation, with the F/O only asking for priority. In aviation, two different things...

I attended the week-long NTSB Hearings in Long Island on this one, as (like many dispatchers out there) the very idea of how an airliner could be allowed to run out of fuel was just so foreign (excuse the unintentional irony) to us, given that monitoring was so intergral to a dispatcher's daily responsibilities.

Cheers...
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Old Jul 1, 11, 5:20 pm
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dumb question, OPLNguy, but do the airlines have to report arrival fuel qty as part of normal operations (or make their databases open to the FAA)? Seems to be the only way they'd monitor compliance.

I didn't look up the FAA #s you posted, but I assume they apply to all commercial flights in the US?

I'm just curious as a friend of a friend is a regional pilot for another carrier, and they tell stories of being <20min fuel and the alarms that then go off. They could be just that, stories. Or last flight of the night, working for a company not stuctured as much on safety, maybe margins do get ignored?
If a runway closure happened right before arrival , they'd be out of luck.
Just one of a number of factors that keep me on the big jets.

Besides the foreign NY flight that you became involved in, I recall reading that a Concorde ran out of fuel immediately after landing in Paris resulting in pilot dismissal.

Last edited by expert7700; Jul 1, 11 at 5:30 pm
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Old Jul 1, 11, 6:40 pm
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Originally Posted by expert7700 View Post
dumb question, OPLNguy, but do the airlines have to report arrival fuel qty as part of normal operations (or make their databases open to the FAA)? Seems to be the only way they'd monitor compliance.

I didn't look up the FAA #s you posted, but I assume they apply to all commercial flights in the US?

I'm just curious as a friend of a friend is a regional pilot for another carrier, and they tell stories of being <20min fuel and the alarms that then go off. They could be just that, stories. Or last flight of the night, working for a company not stuctured as much on safety, maybe margins do get ignored?
If a runway closure happened right before arrival , they'd be out of luck.
Just one of a number of factors that keep me on the big jets.

Besides the foreign NY flight that you became involved in, I recall reading that a Concorde ran out of fuel immediately after landing in Paris resulting in pilot dismissal.
Yes, they apply to all Part 121 Domestic and Flag air carriers.

In addition to airlines being required to retain flight paperwork for a minimum of 90 days, there's another compliance mechanism at work--namely that the aircraft dispatcher is FAA-licensed, just like the pilots are. Since a license is required to be able to work, there's great incentive to follow the regs and avoid potential certificate actions.

Can't say about your RJ friend (although I'm they're also a Part 121 outfit), or the Concorde deal (different country, with their own regs).
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Old Jul 1, 11, 7:58 pm
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You missed the one Flightstats did track correctly.

The flight track indicates almost 200 miles flown in 2 orbits you may not realize you flew. That maybe 30 minutes plus the 20 minutes you know about are darn close to the normal fueling for hover time.

The flight track here. http://flightaware.com/live/flight/S...750Z/KPHL/KFLL
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Old Jul 1, 11, 11:56 pm
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Originally Posted by lougord99 View Post
OPNLguy, I love your explanations. I am a plane geek and suspect many others here are also.



If I remember correctly, there was also an issue with the pilot not understanding the terms that are used in the US airspace. Several times he told controllers that he was running low on fuel - but never used the magic phrase 'I have a fuel emergency' or something to that effect. If he had used the correct phrase, they would have landed him immediately rather than soon.
Emergency is the word!

One night while listening in on an approach frequency a pilot and the sole pilot of a small turboprop cargo aircraft said she had a "bit of an emergency". That one word emergency triggered the ATC list of questions (souls onboard, fuel, etc.) and she couldn't take it back she had to answer as the word emergency was already sent.

Everything that is supposed to happen happened. All other flights put in a holding pattern, fire/rescue vehicles rolled.

She said she had a view through the windshield about the size of her knuckle due to severe icing with total unknowns about ice on the rest of the aircraft and I assume it's ability to do anything but descend. She was prioritized and landed without incident.
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Old Jul 2, 11, 12:11 am
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Uh-oh? Something is funny going on today. They are running out of fuel, huh? Unreal! I could not believe it. They should have refuel the plane in MCO or JAX instead of going to FLL. Because the weather is so terrible in FLL during in the Summer. I wasn't wondered why they did shutdown at FLL due to weather. I wasn't so terrified what happened the weather condition in South Florida. Most of the time the weather does not good at all. I didn't like it in South Florida at all.
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Old Jul 2, 11, 11:05 am
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Originally Posted by OPNLguy View Post
One of the many things dispatchers for U.S. Part 121 airlines do is monitor fuel status throughout the duration of flight, and whenever it might be time to divert, we divert.
The decision to divert is made by the dispatcher and not the pilot?
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Old Jul 2, 11, 11:09 am
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Originally Posted by lougord99 View Post
The decision to divert is made by the dispatcher and not the pilot?
No, it's the decision of the pilot. But the dispatchers monitor the fuel load and work with the pilot who ultimately decides whether to divert.
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Old Jul 2, 11, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by lougord99 View Post
The decision to divert is made by the dispatcher and not the pilot?
Although under the FAA regs the captain is the final authority, etc. etc. the decision to divert is most commonly a joint one between captain and the flight's dispatcher, continuing the philosophy of joint pilot/dispatcher responsibility under other FAA regs.

Unlike the captain (who is busy flying), the dispatcher has access to wider variety of info, and more timely info than the captain might have. For example, consider a flight from Florida that's holding to get into MDW that has IND listed as an alternate. If a captain decides to divert to IND absent any communication and coordination with his dispatcher, s/he may get an unpleasant surprise upon landing there and discovering that there are already 6 other diversions ahead of him, and that they'll be #7. (We like to try and spread any diversions out amongst other nearby stations, which in the scenario could include SDF, CMH, DTW, CLE, STL, BNA, etc.) Should a captain disagree with one of these other places and insist on IND, s/he can certainly still go there, but it's not going to be as smooth an operation delay-wise as it might have been by going elsewhere.

The bottomline is communication and coordination between the two parties can (and usually does) prevent many problems.
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Old Jul 2, 11, 12:40 pm
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I've read the steps that happen in near real-time when a station like BWI closes and traffic is diverted to several other airports. Truly amazing that a group on the ground can handle this in real-time.

OPLNguy, I'm curious if the Southwest always includes "alternate+45min" airport fuel in their planning. It seems the FAA allows (in 135.223) carriers to skip alternate fuel if weather is forcast good 1hr before and after scheduled arrival time?

It seems like you'd need to land with 1.5 of fuel remaining on some routes to satisfy this, depending on how far it is to an alternate airport. In some cases the closest/best might be a round trip back to the departure airport more than 45 minutes away.
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