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Reasons For Declaring an Emergency

Source:, Featuring John Krug


"Let's talk a little about what defines an aircraft emergency and some of the reasons for actually declaring one."


"Well, Bob, let's look at the textbook answer first and then we'll talk about how that applies to the real world. An emergency can either be a distress or an urgency condition. Basically, it's any time that you are in doubt as to the safe outcome of the flight. As the pilot in command, you're the one who is responsible for the safe outcome and you have the authority under the FARs to declare an emergency. The differences between a distress and urgency condition are that distress is obviously that, distress. The engine has quit, the airplane is on fire, and we have to do something right now. Those are the pretty easy ones to make the decision on. You're going to do what you have to do to complete the flight safely. The really gray ones are the urgency ones. That's what we'd like to talk about here. What constitutes an urgency condition? Is it that feeling in the seat of your pants that something is not right with the airplane? Is it a warning light? Are you a little low on fuel? Are you unsure of your position? Is the weather getting lower than you would like to see it? Those are all urgency situations. What can you do about it? Well, again, the first thing to do is to fess up and talk to ATC. ATC can be a great resource. They can't fly the airplane for you, but they can definitely help you with some of the tools that you might need to manage the safe outcome of that flight."


"You talked about that feeling. All of us have had that feeling in an airplane, but few of us have acted upon it. Getting the air traffic controller the information sooner rather than later, is obviously key to getting the outcome that we desire."


"Absolutely! The sooner that you can communicate the information, the sooner that ATC can mobilize whatever resources are necessary to assist you. If you start running into some weather that's significantly lower than you're comfortable with, this is the time to communicate and say, "Approach. Ceilings are getting too low here. I'm going to need some help finding another airport. As pilots, we always run into that ego situation where we don't want to self confess. I would rather self confess and say, "Hey, I need some help here," than to have it progress to the point beyond where ATC can do anything to help you out."


"In virtually every situation that you described, delay only exacerbates the situation. You have less fuel, you have more ice, or you're more lost than you were when you started. Getting help early rather than later is really the key to achieving what you want, which is resolution of the problem."