Your luggage was checked, you boarding pass is at hand, you pass through the security filters, waiting for the call to board, and suddenly, you look at the information panel in the waiting room and see the message nobody likes to get: “delayed or canceled flight”.
Although the passenger does not know the causes of flight delays and cancellations and everything is in apparent normality at the airport, the operation of a flight implies the existence of several factors that must be perfectly aligned.
The following are the most common causes of flight delay or cancellation.
1.- Weather conditions
Heavy rains and snowfall during the winter months are well known; these can delay ground operations and hinder landing or take off maneuvers. The sunny summer arrives and the season of greatest passenger traffic begins: family vacations, meetings with friends, sunny days to enjoy, and a climate that would seem pleasant to fly. However, the combination of high temperatures and summer winds can surprisingly result in a storm that may result imperceptible at ground level.
During the summer months, the hot air rises and interacts with the cold air that is in the upper atmosphere. This mixture causes water vapor to condense and storm clouds with lightning to form at great heights; the lighting cannot be seen from the surface.
In general, airlines coordinate with Air Traffic Control if a change in landing or take-off routes is needed to avoid these thunderstorm clouds. But the operation could continue to represent a risk for ground workers who are on the platform carrying out activities prior to the departure or arrival of flights, such as aircraft fueling, luggage transfer, inspection and cleaning of aircrafts, etc.
Then, due to weather changes, delays or cancellations of scheduled itineraries occur. In these cases, the airline is exempt from the obligation to compensate passengers for the damages that they could have suffered as established in the regulations of “Provisions for Compensation to Users for Flight Delays”, because the facts are not attributable to the company.
2.- Operational modifications
For the optimization of operations and greater efficiency in fuel consumption, an aircraft may be scheduled to fly to several destinations. In this case, a delay in another station could cause what is called “drag delay”; that is, a problem in another airport could result in a delay in the operation of the next flight in some other point.
Likewise, there are operating conditions that must be met to ensure flight safety, such as checking that the crew has complied with the mandatory rest time stated in the aviation technical regulations or ensuring that the members responsible for the flight operation are fit to embark. It is uncommon, but there have been cases in which there is an unforeseen health problem in an officer or senior cabin crewmember, which represents a decrease in the crew that is impossible to cover immediately.
Ecuadorian aeronautical regulations control the operation in cases of early departure or delays in the time of takeoff / landing. Resolution 120/2017 determines the obligation for the airline to notify, with due justification, any change in the time of departure and arrival, applying international processes and standards.
The airlines comply with an aircraft maintenance schedule, previously approved by the local Aeronautical Authority, who, as the controlling body, will verify compliance. These are called scheduled maintenance. But aircrafts are machines and therefore susceptible to unforeseen damage, which may cause inevitable delays in the operation of a flight. Each technical problem must be documented and recorded in accordance with the protocol established in the manuals of each company; this is done to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and ground personnel.
The airlines that operate in Ecuador have programs, policies and manuals that govern each operational process of their flights. In the case of international airlines, these procedures are subject to a certification process carried out by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation based on the Technical Aviation Regulations, known as RDAC. For international operators it is the RDCAC 129 and for domestic airlines the RDAC 121.
Airlines publish constant and first-hand information in their social networks when events like these happen, and seek to offer the passenger immediate solutions, to the extent possible, so that they arrive safely at their destination.
Finally, for airlines, the security of their operations will always come first. Therefore, when conditions are not safe for a flight, delays and cancellations, even if they are annoying for users, are unavoidable for the benefit of the passengers themselves, crew, and the ground workers.