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 predominant, 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

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

Emergency Notification:

  • Emergency notification may come in several forms including aural, visual, or tactical
  • Aural:

    • Alarms may be utilized with more advanced avionics
    • Alerts are intended to cause people to stop what they are doing and attend to a potential hazard. However, some alerts fail to provide useful information and can create their own human factors problems. These are known as nuisance alerts (Sanquist, Thurman, & Mahy, 2005). Nuisance alerts are troubling because the person receiving the alert must devote attention to deciding if the alert is valid and whether action is necessary

What to do?

  • Breathe, determine what is going on
    • Panic is no solution
  • 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
  • High Cylinder Head Temperature:

    • High temperatures of any kind are cause for concern
    • High cylinder head temperatures are cause for concern about your engine
    • High Cylinder Head Temperature Indications:

      • Your cylinder head temperature gauge will operate high than normal, though not yet necessarily in a 'red' area
    • High Cylinder Head Temperature Secondary Indications:

    • High Cylinder Head Temperature Considerations:

      • Insufficient air is getting into the engine cowling calling for reduced pitch, increased speed, open cowl flaps, or a removal of a blockage
      • Improper fuel-to-air mixture ratio (lean mixtures could
      run hotter)
    • Equipment failure (spark plugs, magnetos)
    • Left uncorrected, detonation and pre-ignition may start occurring, exacerbating the problem
  • Engine Failure:

    • With engine failures, speed (trading speed for altitude) is life, and altitude (time) is life insurance
    • Engine failures are largely due to mechanical failure, loss of spark, loss of air, or loss of fuel
    • Engine failures require immediate action
    • You should always have a plan, based on phase of flight, before you take off
    • 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:

      • Consider an action just performed may be the source of the problem
      • 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
      • Loose mixture controls may slowly move to idle
      • A partially open primer allows raw fuel to get into the engine intake without atomizing as required for proper combustion
      • 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
      • Make your landing crash as slow and as controlled as possible
        • Deceleration impacts increase as the square of the speed
          • Impact forces at 60 kts are four times those at 30 kts
        • At 45 kts only 9.4 feet of deceleration will bring you to a stop
      • Losing situational awareness and stalling the aircraft is far more lethal than the emergency landing
      • Engine Failure on Takeoff:
        • Pilots must have a plan for engine failure on takeoff before they take the runway
        • Failure to obtain and/or maintain flying speed is a leading cause of accidents, so fly the aircraft at the appropriate speed first and foremost
        • Based on glide performance, pilots may chose altitudes at which their options on where to land and how far they will turn may be
        • Turning back to the departure runway (often referred to as the impossible turn) is a highly dangerous maneuver
          • 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 turnback to the field after an engine failure
          • The impossible turn is only impossible if you do not have the performance, so know when you do, and practice-don't guess!
    • Engine Failure Prevention:

      • Ensure sufficient fuel quantity (between all tanks), type
      • Avoid changing fuel tanks (on selector driven aircraft) away from suitable ditch points
      • Mark navlogs when fuel selectors are swapped
      • Minimize actions that could foul spark plugs, like running excessively rich
    • 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 (occurring where total drag is least)
        • 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:

  • Magneto Failure:

    • Magnetos failues cause one of the spark plugs in a cylinder to stop firing
    • The cylinder effected will experience a higher than average EGT
  • Overheating:

    • Engines can overheat due to a failed cooling system or operations prohibiting effective heat management
    • In turbine engines, engines may be cooled by motoring the engine, thereby moving cool air throughout the engine
      • This may also extinguish fires due to fuel leaks
    • To better diagnose, consider that cylinders are generally numbered higher as they move from the front of the engine to the back
      • In most engines, the right side, as viewed from the cockpit, are odd numbered and the left are even
      • Some aircraft are different, and so cylinder placement should be verified if relying on that data to make a decision
  • 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:

    • Within fuel-related accidents, fuel exhaustion and fuel starvation continue to be leading causes
      • From 2011 to 2015, an average of more than 50 accidents per year occurred due to fuel management issues
      • Fuel exhaustion accounted for 56% of fuel-related accidents while fuel starvation was responsible for 35% of these accidents
    • Fuel Delivery Primary Indications:

      • Rough engine
    • Fuel Delivery Secondary Indications:

      • Dropping or low RPM
    • Fuel Delivery Considerations:

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

    • When the EGT exceeds the safe limit of a turbine-powered aircraft, the engine experiences a "hot start"
    • Hot starts occur when too much fuel enters the combustion chamber or turbine RPM is insufficient
    • Hot starts are caused by improper starting procedures which may be cause of the pilot or electronically controlled systems
    • Any time an engine has a hot start, refer to the AFM/POH or an appropriate maintenance manual for inspection requirements
    • If the engine fails to accelerate to the proper speed after ignition or does not accelerate to idle RPM, a hung or false start has occurred
    • Reciprocating engines may be hot when start, but these procedures are deviations, and not usually cause for concern
    • Hot Start Primary Indications:

    • Hot Start Secondary Indications:

      • Engine smoke or fire
    • Hot Start Considerations:

      • Be prepared to turn off the engine
      • Note dark colored smoke is most often attributed to gas or oil while white smoke is likely electrical
      • Aging magnetos may show as the increased frequency of hot, or at least hotter, starts
  • Hung Start:

    • A hung start is typically associated with turbine engines
    • A hung start occurs when there is insufficient starting power source or fuel control malfunction
    • Hung Start Primary Indications:

    • Hung Start Secondary Indications:

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

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

    • Tachometers can fail, be it the instrument, or connections that feed the instrument display
    • Listen to the powerplant, and determine if it is in fact the engine (see engine failure) or the instrument malfunctioning
    • The instrument is the only direct reading of RPM the pilot has, which means even if the engine sounds healthy, the engine or the tachometer are unairworthy
    • See also: First XC Solo didn't go as planned
  • 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:

    Avionics Emergencies:

    • Making time updates on navlog will help identify the approximate location in event of an avionics failure
    • If vectored off route, the creation of internal reporting intervals will assist
      • An example would be time crossing landmarks or waypoints

    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
      • Low Oil Pressure 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

    Communication &/or Navigation Failures:

    • Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver (NAV & COM channels)
      Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver
      (NAV & COM channels)
    • 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
    • Expect smoke and fumes may result in tearing of the eyes, impairing vision


    • Flight Control Jam:

      • Once identified, use other control surfaces to overcome the forces
      • Consider the use of trim to increase effects while minimize control pressures
      • If necessary, but unable, to lower the nose to prevent an unsafe condition (i.e., a stall), rolling the aircraft into an angle of bank will cause the nose to drop
    • 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
    • Flap Asymmetry:

      • An asymmetric "split" flap situation is one in which one flap deploys or retracts while the other remains in position
      • Split-flap conditions can result in a dramatic rolling moment toward the least deflected flap
      • Rolling moment are countered with opposite aileron
      • Opposite rudder will be required to overcome the adverse yaw caused by the additional drag on the wing with the extended flap
        • The aircraft is now in a cross-controlled situation
      • To solve this problem, you may attempt to raise the flaps again
      • Weigh the cost of retracting the flaps which could fix the situation or could cause more damage
      • Consider flying faster approaches, remember with one wing that does not have flaps, it will stall earlier, requiring a higher than normal approach speed
        • Almost full aileron may be required to maintain a wings-level attitude, especially at the reduced airspeed necessary for approach and landing
        • The pilot should not risk an asymmetric stall and subsequent loss of control by flaring excessively
        • Rather, the airplane should be flown onto the runway so that the touchdown occurs at an airspeed consistent with a safe margin above flaps-up stall speed
      • The pilot should not attempt to land with a crosswind from the side of the deployed flap because the additional roll control required to counteract the crosswind may not be available
      • Some aircraft are designed with physically interconnected flaps to prevent flap asymmetry
    • 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:
        • Trim buttons may simply be stuck, and need to be pushed back to neutral
        • Know where your trim motor circuit breaker is, and pull it if you suspect runaway trim due to an electrical short
    • Opened Door:

      • An opened door is not an emergency until the pilot tries to take an action and loses control of the aircraft
      • The amount of airflow over the fuselage makes opening the door to slam it shut difficult, tempting the slowing of airspeed closer to stall speed
      • The performance impacts of a door opening in flight are minimal
      • It is always best to simply land, shut the door, and take off again

    Landing Gear:

    • Landing Gear Fails to Retract:

      • When the landing gear will not retract after takeoff, the pilot should leave the landing gear extended
        • Trying to force the landing gear to retract may cause the landing gear to become stuck in the retracted position
      • Landing gear position may be confirmed by the tower, or other aircraft
      • If the landing gear appears locked down then flight may be continued at reduced performance
      • Consideration should be given to rescue services at the destination in the event of further emergency
      • Consideration should be given to inspecting the landing gear prior to taxi following landing
    • 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
    • Parking Brake Fails to Disengage:

      • If the parking brake fails to disengage in a tricycle gear aircraft, more than likely the aircraft won't move or it will try to rotate about the stuck wheel
        • The risk to the aircraft is relatively minimal, of course unless their are objects very near by
      • Tail dragger airplanes risk a prop strike if attempted to move, as the aircraft will immediately rotate forward

    Emergency Autoland:

    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 be assigned
    • 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):

    • Recommend Evacuation
      Recommend Evacuation
    • Recommend Stop
      Recommend Stop
    • Emergency Contained
      Emergency Contained
    • 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


    • WARNING:

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

      • 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
    • Two 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
      • Still, ATC can declare an emergency on your behalf, which does not gie them authority over you, but does raise your priority/level of service
    • 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
    • If equipped with an autopilot, consider flying the aircraft by hand in any emergency
      • While the use of an autopilot to reduce task saturation is tempting, flying by hand maintains tactile feedback on aircraft performance
    • In the event of a pilot incapacitation, an Emergency Autoland system or an emergency descent system may assume operation of the aircraft and deviate to meet that emergency
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