Spring and summer storms can make for long days for travelers and airport staff due to delayed, cancelled and diverted flights. On a recent stormy evening, PHL welcomed more than 20 planes that were headed to the New York City area but were forced to make weather-related stops before reaching their destinations. “Most flights come in as ‘Fuel N Go’s’, but others must deplane due to crew timeouts [flight crews reaching their federally regulation maximum number of hours on duty] or long onboard delays,” said Airport Operations Officer Supervisor Steve Belton. “July 6 was a particularly busy night for PHL, but we do tend to have two-to-four of these types of diversion nights every year in the spring and summer.”
PHL’s Ramp Tower staff is notified by flight tracking software when an aircraft has changed its destination to Philadelphia. The airport can have anywhere from over an hour to just 15 minutes to prepare for a plane’s arrival and make room for the aircraft.
“We like to put aircraft on our Remote Parking Aprons, so we leave the gate available for flights needing to deplane,” said Belton. “If a flight ends up not being able to leave PHL, we will then find them a gate and deplane the passengers.”
If the diverted fight is one of PHL’s signatory airlines (a carrier that provides regularly scheduled passenger service at PHL), airport staff will coordinate with the airline for a parking location if their gate space is full. The airline then coordinates all needs for the aircraft and its passengers. If a diversion is from a non-signatory airline, Belton’s staff finds that aircraft a parking location, a ground handler, and starts the process for fueling. “Most airlines have code shares with other airlines here at PHL and they assist in helping those non-signatory airlines,” said Belton. “My staff acts as the middleman making sure all diversions are being taken care of and don't bust any long on-board regulations.”
Being located between New York City and Washington, D.C., means PHL’s staff needs to keep an especially close eye on the weather to the north and south. “Being in the middle makes sure we get a heavy helping of diversions,” said Belton. “New York and New Jersey airports send the most diversions, and we get the flights coming from the south to the NYC area. When the Baltimore and D.C.-areas have storms, we will get the diversions coming from the north down to those airports, too.”
Inclement weather brings unexpected and sometimes unusual guests to PHL.
“On July 6, [Mexican carrier] Volaris diverted here from JFK—that’s the first time I remember them diverting to PHL. When JFK is diverting, we tend to get the airlines that are rarely seen in our region, like Middle Eastern, Eastern European and the Central and South American carriers,” said Belton. “These airlines tend to be hard to handle since they don't usually have code sharing the airlines at PHL and sometimes we do not have the operations contact information for them. When this happens, my staff investigates and figures out how to get the flight coordinated and back on its way to their destination.”