I always wonder how many "backup" approach charts and airport diagrams airline pilots have in case the plane has to divert. I imagine a few possibilities:

  1. There are no approach charts in the cockpit. The only ones the pilots have are those with the flight plan: the departure, destination and any alternates they picked along the route. If the plane must land somewhere else, the pilots will ask ATC to guide them in.
  2. All of the fleet's destinations are available in the cockpit. If the plane diverts to any one of these airports, it is likely that there will be a ground crew to serve the passengers.
  3. Every airport that can accommodate the size of the airplane is available, irrespective of whether it is a destination of one of the airline's routes.
  4. Every airport within the operation area, no matter how big or small, is available.

I imagine with more airlines using Electronic Flight Bags, this would be a non-issue as one can easily load all available charts in the world onto the tablet, and updating them is trivial. Still I am interested in knowing what airlines typically do.

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In the 1990s I flew for two 747 carriers, the first primarily a freight carrier and the second primarily a passenger carrier. Both used Jeppesen for their airway manuals, and both supplied each pilot with a single, full-size and very full Jepp manual that contained as many as possible of the airports we might go into. Image below:

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As I remember, the criteria for whether a plate would be in our personal binder included the airport having a runway at least 5000 feet long.

Both carriers did extensive charter work to every continent save Antarctica, and we would occasionally be dispatched to an airport that our personal Jepp manual didn't have. The freight carrier handled this problem by having aboard each aircraft a flight bag with full, world-wide coverage, 5 or 6 manuals as I remember. In theory the manuals were kept current by updating them each time the aircraft went through its base, but in practice they were almost always out of date, but at least they were there in case of an inflight diversion to an unplanned airport.

The pax carrier handled the problem of an airport not in our personal coverage by faxing the plates with our flight plans. In case of an unplanned inflight diversion, dispatch would read the pertinent information to us over HF, a very tedious procedure, obviously. I only had that happen once.

It was a different world back then with no ubiquitous Internet. I typically spent 300 to 400 dollars per month in international phone calls to my wife. No Skype, no WhatsApp, Compuserve for email until around 1996 or so, then sporadic Internet, but always dial-up and with ridiculous charges by the hotels.

The major international carrier I‘m most familiar with used to, in the olden days, carry charts for all airfields in the area of operation for that particular aircraft type that were deemed useable by the operations department for that type. There is a team and process for performing the required airfield assessments.

Nowadays on the EFB, this airline’s pilots have access to charts for all airfields any of that airline‘s aircraft types are allowed to use, and they also have a means of seeing how suitable the operations department deems any particular one of these airfields for that particular aircraft type.

It's going to depend on the air carrier, but in the EFB age there isn't much of an economic advantage to curtailing your Jepp subscription. A US Pt.121 Flag or Domestic airline will have a list of approved airports they can "plan" from (including enroute diverts, like ETOPS), but in an emergency they can go anywhere.

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