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How ATC Can Assist With In-Flight Emergencies

Featuring Bob Adelizzi

Bob Martens:

"Bob, we know from accident analysis that many pilots wait too long before involving ATC in their cockpit problems. What recommendations do you have for a pilot who might be experiencing weather or icing problems, systems malfunctions, or maybe even an aircraft emergency? How can you help them out?"

Bob Adelizzi:

"We get them all day long whether they're medical emergencies on airliners, people that have gear indications that they're not all green, asymmetric name it. They'll call and say, Look, we want equipment standing by, and we're declaring an emergency.

Some controllers do have some sort of a flying background. So they can understand what's going on inside the airplane, and maybe it's not a good time to be talking with this pilot that needs to be doing something else and take care of the situation, instead of burdening them at the time with needless questions. The one thing that I've always told people...if a controller is asking you a lot of questions and you have an emergency situation or an urgent situation, and you can't answer them right away, just say, I'm kind of busy flying the plane right now. I can't answer. I'll get back to you.

We have availability to get weather for people. Right now we can get runway conditions. We can get icing reports. Any type of emergency, though, if you tell us right away what the emergency is, we can deal with it a little bit better. There seems to be a reluctance that pilots aren't going to say they have a problem - maybe they're afraid of the paperwork that may be involved afterwards. But I find it's best to fess up and say, Look, I got this problem. I think it might be this issue. It could be something minor. It could be something catastrophic.

If it's a minor problem, it could lead to something worse. Maybe we can get a head start, maybe get things set up for you. We obviously can't be there flying the airplane with you, but we can take some of the burden off you as far as getting things set up on the ground. If you've got to make an emergency landing or maybe find a place where the weather is good, should you be VFR rated and suddenly get an IFR condition. Something as simple as...some pilot couldn't get into Norwood one night, and his alternate was back in New Jersey. He wanted to get on the ground but he didn't have his approach plates. So we have at our disposal the approach plates. We read him the approach plate and what his inbound courses were, the frequencies and so forth. After a little bit of talking, we did get the guy down. Things like that we can always call in other resources within the facility, too."

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