“Drift Down” and “Depressurization” strategies are important procedures in aviation safety. Pilots are trained to recognize the applicability of “Drift Down” and “Depressurization” strategies through a combination of their initial pilot training, recurrent training, operational experience, and guidance provided by their airline or the aircraft manufacturer.
Drift Down Procedure
Drift Down is an emergency procedure used in the event of an engine failure during flight, particularly in multi-engine aircraft. The procedure is typically performed when one engine fails, and the aircraft needs to descend safely and maintain a controlled flight path. Drift Down is initiated when one of the aircraft’s engines fails, and the remaining engine(s) might not provide sufficient thrust to maintain the current altitude.
The primary objective of the Drift Down procedure is to ensure that the aircraft maintains adequate terrain clearance while descending. Pilots follow a specific checklist or set of procedures provided by the aircraft manufacturer or airline. These procedures include configuring the aircraft for single-engine operation, adjusting power settings, and selecting an appropriate descent rate to maintain safety.
The exact altitude to which the aircraft should drift down depends on various factors, including aircraft weight, terrain, weather, and obstacles. It is chosen to provide the best balance between safety and aircraft performance. The flight crew should inform air traffic control of the engine failure and the intention to perform a Drift Down procedure, as this may require a change in the planned flight route or altitude.
Depressurization refers to the loss of cabin pressure at higher altitudes. In response to depressurization, the aircraft will perform an emergency descent to an altitude where the cabin pressure is sufficient for passengers and crew to breathe without oxygen masks. This altitude is typically around 10,000 feet, which is a safe altitude for breathing.
Some flight routes may take an aircraft through areas with high terrain, such as mountains. At high altitudes, the available oxygen in the atmosphere is reduced, and if there is a depressurization event, it can become critical more quickly. In such cases, airlines may develop specific strategies to account for the terrain. These strategies are typically outlined in the airline’s operational manuals, and they are designed to ensure the safety of the flight when flying through areas with challenging terrain, such as mountainous regions.
Both Drift Down and Depressurization procedures are critical safety measures in aviation. Flight crews are trained to be aware of specific routes and terrain profiles that may require different responses in the event of depressurization or engine failure. This training includes understanding the airline’s specific procedures and policies.
The exact procedures may vary depending on the aircraft type and airline-specific operating procedures.
In some cases, airlines may recommend or require pilots to preemptively descend to lower altitudes when flying through areas with challenging terrain, even before depressurization occurs. This proactive approach ensures that the aircraft remains at a safe altitude for passengers and crew in case of a depressurization event.
Some examples of regions where ATS routes may traverse terrain with heights exceeding 10,000 feet include:
Rocky Mountains (United States and Canada): The Rocky Mountains extend from New Mexico in the southern United States to British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. Many ATS routes cross this mountain range, which features numerous peaks exceeding 10,000 feet.
Andes Mountains (South America): The Andes are one of the longest mountain ranges in the world and extend along the western edge of South America. ATS routes in countries like Peru, Chile, and Argentina navigate through these high-altitude areas.
Himalayas (Asia): The Himalayan mountain range, home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, is crossed by many international air routes. This region features some of the highest terrain on the planet, with peaks well above 10,000 feet.
Alps (Europe): The Alps are a major mountain range in Europe, spanning several countries such as Switzerland, Austria, France, and Italy. ATS routes traverse this region, often passing through high mountain passes.
Andean Region (Colombia, Ecuador): In countries like Colombia and Ecuador, routes can pass through areas of the Andes Mountains, which can have significant terrain elevations.
Central Asia (e.g., Afghanistan): Regions of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, feature mountainous terrain that may be encountered along air routes.
Other Mountainous Regions: There are mountainous areas in various parts of the world, such as the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and the Sierra Nevada in California.
The aviation authorities and organizations responsible for managing ATS routes, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States or the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) globally, ensure that routes are designed to provide safe altitudes for navigation. They also provide detailed information to pilots and air traffic controllers regarding minimum safe altitudes, waypoints, and terrain clearance requirements for these areas.
Terrain information, obstacle data, and navigational charts are all essential tools for pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain safe operations in mountainous regions with high terrain.