Emergency Procedures


  • PIC is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft
  • In an emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot-in-command and remote pilot-in-command may deviate from FAR 91 or FAR 107 respectively, to the extend required to meet the emergency
    • If the PIC choses to deviate from the provisions of an ATC clearance, the PIC must notify ATC as soon as possible and obtain an amended clearance
    • Unless deviation is necessary under the emergency authority of 91.3, pilots of IFR flights experiencing two-way radio communication failure are expected to adhere to the procedures prescribed under "IFR operations, two-way radio communications failure"
  • Troubleshooting is important but don't fix an airplane airborne when you can safely land first
  • Be directive, if you want something, tell them, don't let ATC drive you
  • Declare emergencies with general terms, use "electrical" or "engine" for example
  • The PIC must notify ATC as soon as possible and obtain an amended clearance
  • Discrete emergency frequencies may be assigned by ATC
    • By default use CTAF or guard (121.5/243.0)
    • You must hear different radio communications
  • Emergency hand signals are listed in 6-5-3
  • First 3 seconds, ask yourself, where am I? What do I have? Is the light valid?
  • With every emergency there will be primary and secondary signals
    • It is important to realize that secondary indications may, or may not be present

All procedures are GENERALIZED.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Emergency Procedures:

    • Aircraft control - MAINTAIN
    • Precise nature of problem - DETERMINE
    • Applicable emergency procedures - EXECUTE
    • Appropriate landing criteria - DETERMINE AND EXECUTE
  • As always, the most important emergency procedure you can ever remember is to aviate, navigate, and then communicate
  • These three steps are really a continuous process which never stops requiring pilot judgment to prioritize steps
    • Aviate:

      • Complete any immediate action procedures that may be required
      • Reduce the electrical load, as required, to buy yourself time
      • After the situation is under control, and while navigating/communicating, open to Chapter 7 of the POH and begin going through the emergency procedure steps, starting back at step 1
    • Communicate:

      • Contact ATC if able
      • If you have not already had to address your passengers, take the time to do so now
      • If you have a hand held radio, break it out and attempt to establish radio communication, as able, with a local agency
      • While less reliable but more predominate, reach for your cell phone and attempt calling ATC
        • With this option in mind, remember that fumbling to find the phone number while in flight is going to be distracting and could make the situation much worse, causing distraction and possibly loss of situational awareness
        • Consider loading your phone with the appropriate telephone numbers a step in preflight


  • Request block altitudes and orbit on the approach end, offset to the runway of intended landing if possible
  • Climb above the weather of possible
  • When contacting base start with what you have, what you've done and what page you're now on
  • Consider fuel remaining for the urgency to get the aircraft on deck
  • Receiving vectors it is a good idea to constantly repeat headings and altitudes are you are busy and it is easy to forget

2 Types of Emergencies:

  • Immediate Action: do as quick as possible consistent with flying (aviating, navigating, communicating)
  • Non-Immediate Action: Get to them when you get to them

What to do?

  • Breathe, determine what is going on
  • Prioritize emergencies (if compounding)
  • Point to field/Immediate Action
  • Climb if possible to improve communication and radar coverage
    • Note that you cannot climb unauthorized in IFR
  • Continue squawking the same code under radar coverage, if unable to contact ATC, squawk 7700 and this can keep you free from violations, though an explanation may be requested later
  • Orbit near field in VMC

Powerplant Emergencies:

  • Powerplant emergencies can range from minor degradation to all out engine failure
  • Regardless, treat everything as if it will lead to an engine failure
  • Engine Failure:

    • Engine failures require immediate action
    • You should always have a plan, based on phase of flight, before you take off
    • The impossible turn for instance (returning to the airport is engine fails on climbout) is only impossible if you don't have the performance
      • The FAA now states matter-of-factly in Advisory Circular 61-83J that "flight instructors should demonstrate and teach trainees when and how to make a safe 180-degree turnback to the field after an engine failure"
    • Engine Failure Primary Indications:

      • Dropping, low, or no RPM
    • Engine Failure Secondary Indications:

      • Dropping temperatures and pressures
      • Reduced noise from the engine
    • Engine Failure Considerations:

      • There may be enough time to restart the engine
      • Altitude is important, but without the appropriate airspeed you will lose too much altitude or stall
      • As part of takeoff, engine failure must be discussed in as much detail as practical with altitudes and turning limitations
      • Electrical abnormalities may distract the pilot from engine abnormalities, leading to improper immediate action procedures
    • Following an engine failure you will lose several systems such as the vacuum system which will impact the attitude indicator
    • Loss of the alternator will mean you're running off battery power which is limited to the condition of the battery
    • If conducting an off-field landing, remember that magneto wires can be broken leading to a hot mag
    • Best Glide:

      • When you're trying to stretch the range of an aircraft with no engine, fly best glide airspeed
      • The closer you can nail the airspeed but if you're task saturated, +/- 5 knots should be acceptable in order to not fixate on the airspeed indicator causing other airwork or procedures to lag behind
      • Best glide is THE best glide airspeed
        • Pulling up the nose will cause the aircraft to shift on the drag curve toward higher induced drag
        • Lowering the nose will cause the airspeed to shift on the drag curve toward higher parasite drag
        • In both cases the result is an increased rate of descent!
    • Selecting a Landing Area:

  • Constant-Speed Propeller Feathering:

    • Loss of oil pressure will impact constant-speed propellers which utilize oil to control pitch
    • In this case, the propeller will begin, if not fully transition to its neutral setting
    • In most aircraft, this will mean the aircraft will feather, and no longer produce thrust
  • Fuel Delivery:

    • Primary Indications:

      • Rough engine
    • Secondary Indications:

      • Dropping or low RPM
    • Considerations:

      • If fuel delivery is not sufficient to keep the engine running smoothly, the engine may be about to quit
  • Hot Start:

    • A hot start is typically associated with turbine engines
    • Reciprocating engines may be hot when start, but these procedures are deviations, and not usually cause for concern
    • Hot starts occur due to improper starting procedures which may be cause of the pilot or electronically controlled systems
    • Hot Start Primary Indications:

    • Hot Start Secondary Indications:

      • Engine smoke or fire
    • Hot Start Considerations:

      • Be prepared to turn off the engine
  • Hung Start:

    • A hung start is typically associated with turbine engines
    • Hung Start Primary Indications:

    • Hung Start Secondary Indications:

      • RPM does not rise
      • The engine fails to start
    • Considerations:

      • Hung starts may be an indication of a weak or disconnecting starter

Electrical Emergencies:

  • Loss of Electrical Power:

    • A total loss of electrical power, especially at night, can be extremely uncomfortable
    • Considerations:

      • Aircraft radios will not work, requiring the use of a hand held radio
      • If at night, pilot controlled lighting will not work
  • Alternator Failure:

    • An alternator failure can be recognized by the batteries picking up the electrical load on the aircraft
    • It is important to know that the aircraft will continue to fly without the alternator if that is the only issue
      • However, aircraft components such as radios and lights will eventually cease to function
      • This means the aircraft will not be legal to fly and may prohibit safe landing at the intended airport due to the loss of radios and transponder

Pitot-Static Emergencies:

Oil Emergencies:

  • Low Oil Pressure:

    • Low oil pressure can be caused by an oil leak which leads to lack of oil in the system, or an ineffective oil pump
    • These emergencies can be particularly detrimental when flying an aircraft utilizing a constant-speed propeller
    • Low Oil Pressure Primary Indications:

      • Oil pressure will indicate low
    • Secondary Indications:

      • Rising Cylinder Head Temperatures (CHT)
      • Oil temperature may rise (if the pressure drops rapidly then it is less likely you will have a corresponding temperature indication
      • Rough engine indications
  • Low Oil Temperature:

    • Primary Indications:

      • Oil temperature will indicate low
    • Secondary Indications:

  • High Oil Temperature:

    • High Oil Temperature Primary Indications:

      • Oil temperature will indicate high
    • High Oil Temperature Secondary Indications:

      • Other temperatures will indicate high
      • Possible smoke
      • Low oil pressure
      • High RPM
Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver (NAV & COM channels)
Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver
(NAV & COM channels)

Communication &/or Navigation Failures:

  • Related to electrical failures, consider carrying a hand-held device as a backup

VMC into IMC:

  • VMC into IMC remains a killer for pilots
  • These conditions can creep up on pilots in areas with fast moving weather/storm development and especially at night
  • In a 1954 study conducted by the University of Illinois, it was found that pilots under a particular VMC into IMC scenario had on average 178 seconds before they would become disoriented and lose control after entering IMC and attempting a 180 degree turn out
    • This study demonstrates the importance for instrument instruction and occasional proficiency to handle such situations

Aircraft Fires:

  • When exiting the aircraft, always exit to the upwind direction as smoke and fumes are toxic


  • Fuel Imbalance:

    • Many aircraft are equipped with a fuel selector which allows you to select which tank, or both, from which to draw fuel
    • Aircraft can at times develop a fuel imbalance from various sources:
      • Prolonged turns in the same direction
      • Mechanical reasons
    • If a fuel imbalance occurs, select the appropriate (fullest tank) to even out the fuel levels
  • Split Flaps:

    • A split flap condition is a state when the flaps on one side of an aircraft deploy, but not the other
    • This can result in a dramatic rolling moment
    • To solve this problem, simply raise the flaps again
  • Runaway Trim:

    • Runaway trim is a condition in which an electric trim motor has become stuck, causing the trim to move when uncommanded
    • This can result in a serious flight control problem where the pilot has to muscle the controls to try and maintain a flyable aircraft
    • The solution is rather simple but complicated in the moment if not considered on the ground:
      • Know where your trim motor circuit breaker is, and pull it if you suspect runaway trim

Landing Gear:

Landing Gear Fails to Extend:

  • When the landing gear will not extend, the pilot should try to manually extend the landing gear
  • If a gear up landing is required, consideration should be given to pavement vs. grass, to ensure a smoother landing (no bumps, etc.
  • Consideration should also be given to fields with the appropriate services desired after an emergency landing

Distress Procedures:

  • Do not hesitate to declare an emergency if in distress
  • An aircraft in an urgency condition needs to recognize when a situation becomes that of distress
  • Safety is not a luxury! Take action
  • Distress frequencies, procedures, signals, and call signs may vary among theaters of operations and are contained in various directives, such as Joint Publication 3-50, DoD FLIPS, and ICAO publications
  • A copy of the applicable procedures and signals shall be carried in the cockpit of all naval aircraft and may be used in time of peace regardless of the degree of radio silence that may be imposed during tactical exercises
  • They will be used in time of war when prescribed by the officer in tactical command and may be amplified as necessary to cover local conditions or specific military operations

Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Communications (ARFF):

  • Discrete Emergency Frequency:

    • Direct contact between an emergency aircraft flight crew, Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Incident Commander (ARFF IC), and the Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT), is possible on an aeronautical radio frequency (Discrete Emergency Frequency [DEF]), designated by Air Traffic Control (ATC) from the operational frequencies assigned to that facility
    • Emergency aircraft at airports without an ATCT, (or when the ATCT is closed), may contact the ARFF IC (if ARFF service is provided), on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) published for the airport or the civil emergency frequency 121.5 MHz
  • Radio Call Signs:

    • Preferred radio call sign for the ARFF IC is "(location/facility) Command" when communicating with the flight crew and the FAA ATCT
      • Example: LAX Command
      • Example: Washington Command
  • ARFF Emergency Hand Signals:

    • In the event that electronic communications cannot be maintained between the ARFF IC and the flight crew, standard emergency hand signals as depicted below should be used
    • These hand signals should be known and understood by all cockpit and cabin aircrew, and all ARFF firefighters
Recommend Evacuation
Recommend Evacuation
Recommend Stop
Recommend Stop
Emergency Contained
Emergency Contained



    • An operating procedure, practice, or condition, etc., that may result in injury or death if not carefully observed or followed

    • An operating procedure, practice, or condition, etc., that may result in damage to equipment if not carefully observed or followed
  • NOTE:

    • An operating procedure, practice, or condition, etc., that is essential to emphasize
  • Shall:

    • Mandatory
  • Should:

    • Recommended
  • May:

    • Optional
  • Will

    • Indicates futurity, never indicates any degree of requirement for application of a procedure

Formation Emergencies:

  • The emergency aircraft has the lead unless they don't want it, "bleeder is the leader"
  • In NORDO situations, any HEFOE from the emergency aircraft means lead brings you back for a HALF flap, straight-in approach
  • Be ready with the book to assist a wingman


  • Always Aviate, Navigate and Communicate
  • 2 things will kill you immediately: hitting the ground or another airplane
    • Think first before you act
  • The pilot in command, has the final authority in the operation of the aircraft
    • It is okay to say "unable" to ATC if in your mind it will put the aircraft into a dangerous state
  • Pay attention to those procedures that require immediate attention and have then memorized
    • If a step ties directly to an immediate safety concern, the step should be memorized
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