Flights make technical stops for a number of reasons, including for refueling, which is the most common reason, but also to make essential repairs; in the event of an emergency landing; and crew changes.

When a plane makes a technical stop, it isn’t actually for the benefit of the passengers, as the plane doesn’t stop for its usual purpose of loading and unloading passengers at its final destination.

1. Fuel and Refueling Considerations

The main and most common reason why a flight might make a technical stop is down to fuel consumption and range limitations.

Fuel consumption is a critical concern for airlines operating long-distance flights, with aircraft requiring a specific amount of fuel to complete its journey that is based on the type of aircraft and its weight, the distance of the flight, and weather conditions

As all aircraft have a limitation for how far they can fly, a technical stop may be necessary to refuel the aircraft to continue its journey.

An example is flight BA1 that takes off from London City Airport and lands at JFK in New York.

plane being refueled

Because London City Airport has a short runway, flight BA1 can only carry a limited amount of fuel. So it needs to make a technical stop in Shannon (Ireland) to refuel.

Another example is Flight UU977 that takes off from Mamoudzou and lands at Paris Charles de Gaulle.

The Boeing 787-8 used for the flight needs to make a technical stop in Nairobi (Kenya) because the short runway at Mamoudzou’s airport is unable to take a full load of passengers and fuel.

2. Weather and Safety Factors

Adverse weather conditions, such as severe storms, strong turbulence, or visibility issues, can cause flight path changes and lead to an unplanned diversion.

Very cloudy skies causing turbulence

For example, if a flight faces headwinds that reduce the aircraft’s ground speed, its fuel efficiency and range capabilities are impacted, which could require a plane to make a technical stop to refuel.

3. Maintenance and Repairs

There’s no doubt that aircraft are complex machines – and like with any complex machinery, they require regular maintenance to function safely and at their best.

While airlines schedule maintenance checks, sometimes unforeseen maintenance issues arise that need to be taken care of immediately, causing the plane to land before its final destination.

4. Crew Scheduling

While it’s quite rare, a flight can make a technical stop to change crew.

This only happens due to irregular operations, such as when the weather has disrupted a flight.

cabin crew standing with arms linked

An example is when American Airlines didn’t get permission to use Russian airspace, which extended the length of the flight and resulted in the cabin crew exceeding their flight time/duty time limits.

The crew therefore needed to be changed before the flight could fly to its final destination.

How Long Do Technical Stops Last?

As the most common reason for a technical stop is to refuel, which usually only takes around 45 minutes, passengers on the plane usually won’t get off.

There are exceptions, though.

The British Airways flight BA1 actually has all passengers disembark in Shannon, Ireland, where they can then clear US customs and immigration.

US immigration agent and passenger

The flight then acts as a domestic flight, so passengers don’t need to go through customs and immigration when landing at JFK.

According to the Airbus reference on refueling, “Refueling with wide cut gasoline type fuel (JET B, JP4 or equivalent) or when a mixture with these types of fuel might occur, is not permitted with passengers boarding, on board or disembarking.”

So, passengers will need to get off the plane is such an instance.

The Difference Between a Technical Stop and Layover

A layover flight involves making a stop on the way to your destination to switch planes, where all passengers will also disembark the plane.

Passengers walking through the terminal to their gate

This is a planned stop – and while technical stops can be planned, such as in the event of refueling the plane – passengers will usually stay on the plane and won’t disembark during a technical stop.

Technical stops also don’t involve passengers changing planes and continuing their journey on a different flight.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.