Why are pilots so hesitant to declare an emergency?

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by kicktireslightfires, Jul 26, 2021.

  1. RyanShort1

    RyanShort1 En-Route

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2010
    Messages:
    3,892
    Location:
    Dallas, Texas

    Display name:
    RyanShort1
    1. It CAN happen.
    2. Nothing, but if you run into the wrong Fed you might find out what he thinks you're trying to hide.

    In reality, it's unlikely, but all it takes is a few examples to get around for people to think twice about potential consequences.

    When my crew bellied a Cardinal in after an hour of unsuccessful attempts to extend it, they had the trucks ready and it was *mostly* a non-event. I think a good scenario-based course on what to do after an accident wouldn't be bad for pilots to take from time to time.

    I agree with some others that if there's something someone outside the plane can do to help, it's worth going ahead and declaring, and that might be as simple as making sure you have priority for the runway, and that others know there may be a delay.
     
  2. ksandrew

    ksandrew Pre-Flight

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2014
    Messages:
    66
    Location:
    Dawson Georgia USA

    Display name:
    ksandrew
    Interesting post. I got my first license in the UK back in 1971 and had to take a course for my Radio Telephony Operators License. The test was in a VC-10 simulator. Very very realistic. I had to do a number of Pan calls as well as Mayday calls. They were very clear about the distinction between a Pan and a Mayday. Pan should probably be used more in the US as it is in other countries.
    My only emergency was years ago when I lost vac at gross weight and in the scud, I was at max altitude. Never even thought about declaring an emergency as I was so busy surviving. The ATC facility was military and offered no help at all, when switched to the next sector they offer none gyro vectors and all was well.
     
  3. Tarheelpilot

    Tarheelpilot Final Approach

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2010
    Messages:
    5,422
    Location:
    North Carolina once again.

    Display name:
    Tarheelpilot
    I don’t think that’s a valid concern. Declare if it’s needed.
     
  4. flybill

    flybill Pre-Flight

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2019
    Messages:
    42

    Display name:
    Flybill
    I had to declare after a passenger riding right seat slumped over unconscious. ATC was great. No paperwork.
     
  5. Tarheelpilot

    Tarheelpilot Final Approach

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2010
    Messages:
    5,422
    Location:
    North Carolina once again.

    Display name:
    Tarheelpilot
    How did being at max gross weight have bearing on losing your vacuum?
     
  6. cowman

    cowman En-Route PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2012
    Messages:
    4,675
    Location:
    Danger Zone

    Display name:
    Cowman
    I think even if a pilot believes he's doing everything right there's always the fear someone will find something he's doing wrong in hindsight. I mean, I find things I did wrong in hindsight so it's not much of a leap to think an over-zealous official might.

    That said if there's any doubt in your mind as to the safe outcome of the flight just declare, it will probably be fine.

    I've never declared, had 2 alternator failures and 1 vacuum pump failure all in very good VFR conditions. I advised ATC in all cases and either completed the flight or turned around and went home but there was no doubt as to the outcome of the flight. Had the same things happened in IMC I'd absolutely have declared. Some of this is situational.
     
    Rushie and RyanShort1 like this.
  7. Sluggo63

    Sluggo63 Cleared for Takeoff

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,392

    Display name:
    Sluggo63
    Ha! Here's my story about me and the Pan.

    I was based over in Europe flying 757s for my US airline. We were flying the approach one night into BHX/EGBB when we got an alert that our trailing edge flaps were not extending normally when we tried to configure for landing. We went around and told tower we had a flap problem and we needed vectors around the box maybe once or twice to get everything sorted. It was a typical BHX evening with rain and gusty crosswinds. We were running our checklists for the flap problem, getting landing data to make sure we could land with the winds, wet runway and reduced flap setting and increased Vref. While we were in the middle of all that, tower calls us and asks if we wanted to declare a Mayday or a Pan.

    Now... I know the difference between the two of those terms while I'm sitting here at zero knots and one G, but at that moment, I didn't have the brain capacity to suss out what each of those meant, so in my attempt to offload any thinking I may have to do, I just told tower, "gimme the one that is the least dramatic." He came back and told me "that would be a Pan..."

    "Great, make me a Pan."

    I'll never again forget the difference between those two things ever again.
     
    Coinneach, Rushie, TCABM and 4 others like this.
  8. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    19,251
    Location:
    PUDBY

    Display name:
    Richard Palm
    True. The difference is that in the non-emergency flights, getting delayed would not have created a hazard.
     
  9. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    19,251
    Location:
    PUDBY

    Display name:
    Richard Palm
    I deal with that theoretical possibility by reminding myself that my goal is to live long enough to attend the hearing.
     
    RyanShort1 likes this.
  10. Lndwarrior

    Lndwarrior Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2009
    Messages:
    681

    Display name:
    Gary
    This is a bad example if you're trying to make the point about not declaring.

    Initially there was no safety of flight issue. The pilots, aircraft, and flight crew were perfectly fine. You don't declare an emergency because someone farted in row 22.

    When the flight crew got sick, then there was a safety of flight issue and they declared.

    Move along, there is nothing to see here.

    Oh, unless you want to express and opinion, that nobody cares about....
     
    TCABM likes this.
  11. 3393RP

    3393RP En-Route

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2012
    Messages:
    3,272

    Display name:
    3393RP
    Flight attendants aren't onboard just to serve drinks. They are legally required crew for safety reasons. If all of them report sick, I would expect the flight crew to declare an emergency.

    Several of our airline pilot members have posted in this thread, but none of them have mentioned the above. I'd like a comment on my opinion from them.
     
    MikeNY and Groundpounder like this.
  12. geezer

    geezer Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2019
    Messages:
    480

    Display name:
    Kruse'n
    Mathew said:
    Are you kidding me? You would rather take your chances with the reaper over the hypothetical chance that the FAA is going to come back at everyone that has ever said MAYDAY and deny them their pilot certificate? I guess the sky really is falling all around your part of the world. They would be grounding nearly every pilot with more than a few thousand hours, practically every ATP, CFI, DPE, etc.


    Mathew, I have had half a dozen events flying where I could have declared an emergency. In all but one of them, there was nothing that a person outside the aircraft could do that would have changed the outcome.

    VFR into un forecast IMC at night needs clearance from other traffic to change altitude out of it, which the FAA does not allow a controller to give you. The controllers work around that rule was to advise me that there was no traffic below me within 50 miles.
    While this discussion of what the FAA did not allow proceeded, I continued to fly straight and level for 5 minutes with my windscreen covered with wet snow. With the crucial information, I made a standard rate descent to a warmer altitude. The controller was completely supportive, and I had the necessary skills to keep my aircraft under control, as long as I could get to a safe altitude. I did not have the rating then so could not air file an IFR plan. Declaring would have resulted in him requiring a whole string of information, souls on board, fuel remaining, etc, which I was not interested in supplying... Aviate, Navigate, Communicate were my priorities. I was on flight following, so they knew where I was, and where I was going. They also thanked me for the pirep, as they were not aware that any precipitation was happening in that area, let alone frozen. My flying before acquiring the IR was in the days of weather transmitted by teletype, and there were monster holes in what the briefer's knew.

    The one that I should have declared was climbing southbound out of Hagerstown in a Cessna 172, on an IFR flight plan, and finding myself a hundred feet into in a cloud layer of freezing moisture at my assigned initial altitude, which was below my requested altitude. I advised Dulles approach control that I was accumulating ice, and needed a climb to a higher altitude (lower would not work, there is high terrain around there). Climb refused "There is conflicting traffic". Second call, with 1/8 inch on the struts, same answer. Third call, with 1/4 inch, I advised that I would need to declare an emergency if I could not climb NOW, and the climb was approved. 100 feet higher, CAVU existed, and not a single airplane in sight, nor any heading change to remain clear of traffic. I should have declared that emergency, and amended my destination to Dulles.

    A visit with the tower chief to fill out that paper work might have been a two edged sword, as the chief determined real time, did that controller need to keep me in icing conditions that were not in my weather briefing just prior to my departure. The descent into Dulles would have certainly added more ice, but they had many more fire trucks and ambulances to sent out along the runway while I landed in priority over the big planes.

    Instead, I flew to my destination in conditions that evaporated part of the ice. That controller gave me a cruise descent, I requested a steep descent on the assumption that icing might exist in the cloud layer there too, and he gave me "Pilots discretion descent", and I descended through the layer at maximum FPM, and landed. I did advise my destination that I was landing with ice on the wings, but had verified that the plane was stable at the intended approach speed, but I would land fast. All went well, and the ice melted off the next day.

    Declaring an emergency would have had positive influence on that day, for me, at least. The controller may not have relished that outcome.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  13. Bill

    Bill Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2005
    Messages:
    13,458
    Location:
    Southeast Tennessee

    Display name:
    This page intentionally left blank
    That's why IMHO this situation would be a pan pan. Safety of flight not in question, but potential medical issue that may require expedited handling. Can always upgrade that to the dreaded E-word if situations warrant.
     
    Sluggo63 likes this.
  14. Clip4

    Clip4 Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2013
    Messages:
    6,645
    Location:
    A Rubber Room

    Display name:
    Cli4ord
    I had declared 3 emergencies with ATC, never heard a peep from the FAA on 2 and never wrote a sentence on the third.
     
    Groundpounder likes this.
  15. Velocity173

    Velocity173 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2012
    Messages:
    13,070

    Display name:
    Velocity173
    Pan Pan is still the E word. It’s just an urgency and not a distress.
     
  16. rbridges

    rbridges En-Route

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2012
    Messages:
    2,724
    Location:
    Warner Robins, GA

    Display name:
    rbridges
    it's the 3 felony convictions and unresolved ADHD history that worries me.
     
  17. tawood

    tawood En-Route

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2015
    Messages:
    2,549
    Location:
    SE Michigan

    Display name:
    Tim
    I once had a flap motor catch on fire while on a long final at PTK flying a rental 172. After a few seconds of disbelief, I called tower on the radio and told them I had a fire on my wing, most likely from a flap motor (flaps quit working, I noticed the flaps quit working, looked out and saw lots of smoke on my right wing). They immediately responded, "Do you want to declare an emergency?" I suppose I should have without hesitation said "yes", but I didn't. After a pause, I said "no". I wasn't afraid of declaring, I just didn't see how it helped my situation what so ever, and I had my hands full. I landed, turned right to the waiting fire trucks (I think those guys must sit waiting in their trucks, they got out there so fast), and pulled the mixture/switched off the mains.
    Part of the problem of declaring, at least to me, is you have to "think about it", and sometimes in an emergency you are task saturated, and you don't have the mental reserve left to make a good decision.
     
    Country Flier likes this.
  18. rbridges

    rbridges En-Route

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2012
    Messages:
    2,724
    Location:
    Warner Robins, GA

    Display name:
    rbridges
    I guess if you're on final, there isn't much advantage. I think it busy airspace, they'll clear a path for you.
     
  19. Clip4

    Clip4 Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2013
    Messages:
    6,645
    Location:
    A Rubber Room

    Display name:
    Cli4ord
    It’s not the convictions, it the outstanding warrants that really worry one.
     
    rbridges likes this.
  20. RobertGary1

    RobertGary1 Pre-Flight

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2012
    Messages:
    54

    Display name:
    RobertGary1
    I would only declare an emergency if priority handling would be helpful. I have declared before, once when I was gliding into a very busy class D with the engine in my Mooney in multiple pieces. The paperwork part is annoying and I had to fight a bit to get the FSDO to return my aircraft logs. But in the end they found that I didn't miss any inspections so an IO-360 coming apart in flight wasn't interesting to them and they shredded their report (literally, I made a FOIA request).
     
  21. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    May 8, 2015
    Messages:
    11,019
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA

    Display name:
    Luvflyin
    FWIW it’s worth an emergency was declared. That’s why the fire trucks we’re waiting for you. It was an absurd question from the Controller. They did ask you how many people and how much fuel was on board I assume.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  22. WDD

    WDD Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2019
    Messages:
    2,258
    Location:
    Atlanta / KRYY

    Display name:
    Vintage Snazzy (so my adult children say)
    Sounds about right. In our club, a guy lost vacuum power/went partial panel while in IFR. Declared an emergency. To me, yeah - no shade on that. That got however "chatted up" a bit by some in the club. So, short of a fire, wing falling off, or a knife fight, I can see the reluctance.

    And, the perception of the FAA, IRS, and Human Resources are not your friend.
     
  23. TCABM

    TCABM Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2013
    Messages:
    2,034

    Display name:
    3G
    Mayday has an entirely different meaning than the e word.
     
  24. WDD

    WDD Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2019
    Messages:
    2,258
    Location:
    Atlanta / KRYY

    Display name:
    Vintage Snazzy (so my adult children say)
    What is the difference?


    AND..... instead of declaring emergency, has anyone called out a Pan Pan?
     
  25. TCABM

    TCABM Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2013
    Messages:
    2,034

    Display name:
    3G
  26. Zeldman

    Zeldman Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2014
    Messages:
    14,041
    Location:
    high desert NM

    Display name:
    Billy
    Sorta on the same subject but on a tangent, airports that have on field emergency services, part of the decision making on their yearly budget is determined by how many times they get called out. So I have no problem in at least asking to ''roll the trucks''.

    Also if the trucks roll for me I will go out and thank the guys and gals for doing their job. That comes from my racing days. I sometimes met those guys too often...
     
    PaulS and X3 Skier like this.
  27. WDD

    WDD Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2019
    Messages:
    2,258
    Location:
    Atlanta / KRYY

    Display name:
    Vintage Snazzy (so my adult children say)
  28. Sac Arrow

    Sac Arrow Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    May 11, 2010
    Messages:
    18,076
    Location:
    Oakland, CA

    Display name:
    Bro do you even lift
    Nope. Same same.
     
  29. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    May 8, 2015
    Messages:
    11,019
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA

    Display name:
    Luvflyin
    Lol.
     
  30. Sac Arrow

    Sac Arrow Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    May 11, 2010
    Messages:
    18,076
    Location:
    Oakland, CA

    Display name:
    Bro do you even lift
    Once I had an issue where my ailerons were jammed and I had rudder-only steering. I was about ten miles out from my home field, and I asked for a precautionary landing on the non-active runway that I happened to be lined up with, explaining the situation. They gave it to me, so I felt that it was pointless to declare. If they hadn't, or had changed their minds, it would have been just as easy to declare then. It wasn't pretty, but I got it down without bending anything. And that was pretty much the end of it.
     
  31. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2015
    Messages:
    6,917

    Display name:
    asicer
    From @Palmpilot in post #31: PanPan is urgency. MayDay is distress. Emergency is distress or urgency. Hence...

    Emergency is a superset (is the union) of PanPan and Mayday. PanPan is the complement of MayDay.
     
    woodchucker likes this.
  32. Sluggo63

    Sluggo63 Cleared for Takeoff

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,392

    Display name:
    Sluggo63
    I'd still declare. If nothing else because if something happens and you end up upside down in the grass, those guys in silver suits will be right there to get me out of the airplane as quickly as possible.
     
    KA550 and Zeldman like this.
  33. Sluggo63

    Sluggo63 Cleared for Takeoff

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,392

    Display name:
    Sluggo63
    And (at least in the Air Force) we used "Emergency" and "Precautionary." Precautionary I guess was pretty close to PAN PAN.

    Edit: IIRC, an "Emergency" and a "Precautionary" would give you different levels of response at a AFB. Less fire trucks, etc., for a "Precautionary."
     
  34. Sluggo63

    Sluggo63 Cleared for Takeoff

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2013
    Messages:
    1,392

    Display name:
    Sluggo63
    I have (see post 47 above).

    TLDR: flap problem on approach. Went around and declared a PAN PAN. But, I was in Europe where that's more common terminology.
     
  35. Tarheelpilot

    Tarheelpilot Final Approach

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2010
    Messages:
    5,422
    Location:
    North Carolina once again.

    Display name:
    Tarheelpilot
    When I declare, I declare a pan pan mayday emergency.
     
    danhagan likes this.
  36. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2015
    Messages:
    6,917

    Display name:
    asicer
    Ah, the legendary May-Pan-Day-ency.
     
    Albany Tom and Tarheelpilot like this.
  37. Velocity173

    Velocity173 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2012
    Messages:
    13,070

    Display name:
    Velocity173
    We used “Precautionary Landing” in the Army or “PL.” Problem is, while you can find the definition of precautionary landing in some aviation literature, it’s not standardized on the ATC side. It’s mostly a military thing.

    For instance, I heard an Apache in Afghanistan tell tower they were RTB for a PL. Tower responded “Attack 11, I have no idea what that is. Are you an emergency or not?” That’s how they think. The controllers manual doesn’t go into precautionary landings other than SFOs. They’re not even in the emergency section. They want to hear either “Pan Pan” or “mayday.” Personally, I worked maybe a half a dozen emergencies when I did ATC and none of them used either term. They simply declared an emergency or I declared it for them.
     
  38. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    19,251
    Location:
    PUDBY

    Display name:
    Richard Palm
    I heard someone do it at Palo Alto Airport once. I don't remember what the reason was.
     
  39. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    19,251
    Location:
    PUDBY

    Display name:
    Richard Palm
    Except that declaring an emergency could mean an urgency condition, going by the P/CG definitions.
     
    TCABM likes this.
  40. tspear

    tspear En-Route

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2010
    Messages:
    2,920

    Display name:
    Timothy
    I have multiple times. No biggie.

    Tim

    Sent from my HD1907 using Tapatalk