Chapter 3. Emergency Services

Section 1. General


Because of the infinite variety of possible emergency situations, specific procedures cannot be prescribed. However, when it is believed an emergency exists or is imminent, take a course of action which appears to be most appropriate under the circumstances and which most nearly conforms to the instructions in this manual.

  1. An emergency can be either a DISTRESS or URGENCY condition, as defined in the Pilot/Controller Glossary.
  2. A pilot who encounters a DISTRESS condition should declare an emergency by beginning the initial communication with the word “MAYDAY,” preferably repeated three times. For an URGENCY condition, “PAN-PAN” should be used in the same manner.
  3. If MAYDAY or PAN-PAN are not used but there is belief an emergency or urgent situation exists, handle it as though it is an emergency.
  4. Consider an aircraft emergency exists and inform the appropriate control facility when:
  1. An emergency is declared by any of the following:
  1. The pilot.
  2. The avionics system (for example, an emergency autoland system).
  3. Facility personnel.
  4. Official responsible for the operation of the aircraft.
  1. There is unexpected loss of radio communications with any VFR aircraft.
  2. Reports indicate the aircraft has made a forced landing, is about to do so, or its operating efficiency is so impaired that a forced landing will be necessary.
  3. Reports indicate the crew has abandoned the aircraft or is about to do so.
  4. Intercept or escort aircraft services are requested.
  5. The need for ground rescue appears likely.
  6. An emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal is heard or reported.


FAA Order JO 7110.10, Para 3-1-4, Responsibility, Subpara c.
FAA Order JO 7110.10, Para 3-2-5, ELT Signals.


Use the information provided or solicit more information as necessary to assist the distressed aircraft. Provide assistance that is consistent with the requests of the pilot. If you believe an alternative course of action may prove more beneficial, transmit your recommendation(s) to the pilot.


14 CFR Section 91.3, Responsibility and Authority of Pilot in Command.


Provide maximum assistance to aircraft in distress. Enlist the services of available radar facilities operated by the FAA, the military services, and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as their emergency services and facilities, when the pilot requests or when you deem necessary.

  1. While in communication with an aircraft in distress, handle the emergency and coordinate the activities of assisting facilities. Transfer this responsibility to another facility only when better handling of the emergency will result.
  2. Upon receipt of information about an aircraft in distress, alert the appropriate control facility and forward the following information when available:


Notifying the appropriate control facility about a VFR aircraft emergency allows provision of IFR separation if considered necessary.

  1. Facility/sector and position calling.
  2. Nature of the emergency.
  3. Flight plan, including color of aircraft, if known.
  4. Time of last transmission received, by whom, and frequency used.
  5. Last known position, estimated present position, and maximum range of flight of the aircraft based on remaining fuel and airspeed.
  6. Action taken by reporting facility and proposed action.
  7. Number of persons on board.
  8. Fuel status.
  9. Position of other aircraft near the aircraft's route of flight, when requested.
  10. Whether an ELT signal has been heard or reported in the vicinity of the last known position.
  11. Other pertinent information.
  1. Notify the ARTCC of all heard or reported ELT signals.


The ARTCC is responsible for receiving and relaying all pertinent ELT signal information to the appropriate authorities.

  1. If the aircraft is transponder-equipped and not on an IFR flight plan, instruct the pilot to squawk code 7700.



  1. Request assistance from other facilities as soon as possible, particularly if radar is available.
  2. Coordinate efforts to the extent possible to assist any aircraft believed overdue, lost, or in emergency status.
  3. Notify the operations supervisor or specialist-in-charge as soon as practicable.

Record all actions taken in the provision of emergency services in the operational system. Locally approved procedures may be used to manually record data during heavy traffic periods or system outages and should be logged in the operational system as soon as practicable.