What’s going on here?

Hey,

I am from the Tampa, Florida area and saw this on a flight tracking app and made me very curious. I’ll post the pictures below to help make sense. In the pictures we can see multiple planes going in circles obvious due to the bad weather. Is this actually very common? At what point does it stop? The weather app said it expects the weather to stay like this for the next couple hrs but there’s only so much fuel they have!! Is ATC trying to keep them up there and delay them instead of having to divert them? There were also flights bound for PIE, an airport nearby in the loop as well.

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Nishal,

The decision to divert always rests with the flight crew, but yes, this is quite common. This is referred to as a holding pattern. Usually holding pattern instructions are given when there is a thunderstorm over the airport or if the airport weather observation system is reporting weather that is below authorized minimums to legally fly an approach to land.

The idea is to fly in a holding pattern, while tracking fuel, hoping that the weather will clear up before a decision to divert has to be made.

Tory

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Nishal,

Holding for weather is actually very common, particularly at larger hub airports. There was probably a large thunderstorm cell passing over the field and ATC had to hold arrivals until it passed. Those airplanes are all separated by 1,000 feet of altitude. It stops when the weather passes or airplanes start to divert. Keep in mind that Apple weather and aviation weather are actually very different things. Good question.

Chris

Chris

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Nishal,

I’m going to disagree with my colleagues. While holding is fairly common in the industry. I’ve been flying for 15yrs and have probably held maybe 20 times. As they said busier airports get backed up more often and the weather is often a key factor but if you’re paying attention it can often be avoided. The good news is the Flight Computer and Autopilot do an exceptional job of holding and it’s nothing more than a few key strokes.

Adam

Quite common for this scenario

I’ve only held 2-3 times operating under part 121

Nishal,
As others said, holds aren’t all that common compared to how much you’ll do them in your instrument training. However, on my IOE in IMC we were told to hold at an initial fix due to ATC stacking issues. So yes, holds can be for a number of reasons.

-Hannah

Holding is an everyday occurrence at Heathrow as that is how they manage traffic, as opposed to radar vectors and incredibly large traffic patterns like the US uses. When I was flying over to there, it was not uncommon to enter the holding stack at 18,000 feet and slowly work your way down to 6,000 feet before being released from the hold to fly the approach.

Chris