Emergency landings

An emergency landing occurs after a critical situation arises aboard an aircraft in flight.

The pilot declares an emergency by making a radiotelephony (RTF) call beginning with the words “Mayday, mayday, mayday” or “Pan pan, pan pan, pan pan”. The term “mayday” is used in the case of an urgent, life-endangering situation requiring immediate assistance. “Pan pan” indicates a serious situation in which the safety of the aircraft, another vehicle, someone on board or someone in view is in danger, but with no immediate threat to life or need for assistance.


An emergency can have many causes. Depending upon the urgency of the situation, the pilot may decide that he or she wishes to land at the nearest suitable airfield. Where that is will be determined by the type of aircraft, its weight and the cause of the emergency. For example, not every airport can accommodate an Airbus A380 because of its very large size and weight. In preparing their flight plans, pilots always consider possible diversions to suitable alternative airfields. Air traffic control has its own special procedures for unusual situations.