Gatwick to Belfast with a diversion to Dublin

Today Ronnie and I were flying to Dublin.  We were leaving Gatwick on a Lambourne 4M SID which has us do a 180degree turn after take-off, then pass over where my house is in Surrey before turning left and crossing over the Thames.  It dusk and the visuals really made it feel like an evening flight (I confess, it made me yawn quite a few times by messing with my body clock!)  We climbed up to FL250 and were cruising towards Belfast but along the way when listening to the Volmet, we realised that Belfast had quite heavy fog and started to plan potential diversions to our alternates of Dublin, IOM and Manchester.  The weather in Dublin was still good and we felt this would be the least disruptive for our “passengers” and so continued onto Belfast passing over Manchester.

As we started the descent towards Belfast the weather was getting worse and quite close to the limits of our Cat1 approach minimums, these being the horizontal visibility and the height of the clouds from the ground, if either of these are too low then it would not be possible to see the runway before we legally have to abort the attempt at landing.

We began the final descent and the weather had reduced to the stage where we were only 50m above the minimum visibility (RVR) of 550m, this means we would only be 550m from the runway when we were able to see it (bearing in mind that we are travelling at over 70metres every second).  As we began the final approach the RVR reduced to 550m, this meant that if we were not visual at our minimum height (220feet above the ground) then we would have to go-around.  We were passing through the thick cloud and got to 500 foot above the ground, still unable to see anything except thick fog and having the flashing strobe lights glare off the clouds.  Ronnie called out 100ft above the decision altitude, then asked for a decision at minimums “Go-around”, there was absolutely no sight of the runway.  Go-around power was set and the aircraft cleaned up after acceleration altitude as we followed the standard missed approach which was a hard turn back to the VOR, we then quickly checked our fuel status and made a call to ATC to if assess the weather conditions were improving or not, they weren’t and we only had enough fuel for one more approach.  We decided to bail and head for Dublin, this would keep us in front of any queues that were forming in the stack and also not put us in a position where we would have to declare a fuel emergency.

As we diverted back to Dublin we called up operations to explain where we were heading, they told us the weather was improving but by now we had only 10minutes left before we were in our reserves which meant not enough fuel for another approach. 

This is one of the tough decisions we will probably have to continually make in our careers as a pilot, we actually had enough fuel on board to divert to Dublin via the longest route conjectured, then hold at Dublin for 30minutes and then make 2 approaches.  This was a lot of fuel, nearly 2 tonnes, but you have to set a point where you must divert, it is a legal requirement to have enough fuel to hold at the diversion point and we would be in big big trouble if diverted knowing full well that we did not have enough fuel.

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~ by globalste on March 9, 2012.

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