Minimum fuel

Aircraft occasionally run short of fuel, or threaten to. Possible causes include unfavourable weather conditions en route and delays during the flight.

In such situations, the pilot may decide to divert to an airport nearer than the intended destination. As long as the aircraft has the minimum amount of fuel required by law, however, he or she is also free to continue the flight as normal.


To alert the air traffic controller to a possible shortage of fuel, the pilot sends a message including a term like “minimum fuel”, “fuel emergency” or “low on fuel”. But since these have no official status in the Netherlands, the controller is not obliged to give the aircraft priority when landing – although, of course, further delays do need to be avoided. Only once the pilot announces a true emergency, with a “Mayday” or “Pan pan” call, is the flight treated as an aircraft in distress. When notified of possible shortage of fuel, though, the controller does inform the pilot of his or her expected approach time and any subsequent changes to that. This enables the pilot to decide if an emergency call is needed after all.