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10 Tips For Any Pilot With An In-Flight Emergency

UND Aerospace sponsored this story. Check out the full series here. And, if you're ready to start your aviation career, learn more about UND Aerospace.

Whether you have a passenger getting sick, an aircraft fire, or electrical failure, these basic tips apply to every emergency you'll face as a pilot.

1) Pause And Slow Your Breathing

Initiated by fear and anxiety, hyperventilation is a natural reaction to stressful situations.

A decreased level of carbon dioxide in blood is caused by rapid/deep breathing. The symptoms are similar to hypoxia. When you first notice something starting to go wrong in the airplane, pause what you're doing and slow your breathing rate. It'll give you the optimum oxygen and heart rate for working through your emergency.

Swayne Martin

2) Fly The Airplane

"Aviate, Navigate, Communicate" plays a huge role in emergencies. First and foremost, focus on flying the airplane. If you're having engine trouble, pick a good spot for landing, set up for best glide speed, and begin flying towards a point of landing.

Swayne Martin

3) Analyze The Problem

Once you've started flying towards a possible point of landing, begin analyzing what went wrong. If it's a sick passenger, see if you can ascertain the extent of their illness. If it's an electrical problem you probably have some battery time, so start looking for electrical malfunctions.

Alternatively, with a serious emergency like a cabin, electrical, or engine fire, you probably don't need too long to figure out what's going wrong.

Swayne Martin

4) Don't Delay Your Decisions

Sometimes just making a decision is more important than making the right decision. Avoid swaying back and forth on an issue for too long; you might create an even more dangerous situation.

Swayne Martin

5) Follow Your Checklist

Get those memorized emergency tasks completed as soon as you can, and don't forget to open up the checklist to see what non-memory items you should complete. Working through the non-memory items might be determined by the seriousness of your situation. If you're on fire, you shouldn't take your time!


6) Ask For Help - Be Creative

Determining what to do in an emergency isn't just limited to the POH and checklist. Use all of the resources available around you, including passengers, other pilots, and ground personnel. Need air traffic control assistance? Tell them! You can even call a control tower on your cellphone if you lose comms. It's their job to provide assistance to aircraft in distress. This leads into our next point...

7) Declare An Emergency If Necessary

Don't delay your decision to declare an emergency. In 2014, a TBM-900 crashed off the coast of Jamaica when the pilot lost consciousness due to hypoxia at altitude. Twice, he requested a lower altitude due to an "incorrect indication" in the cockpit. ATC delayed the descent of the aircraft due to oncoming traffic. A few slurred transmissions later, the pilot lost consciousness.

If the TBM pilot had declared an emergency and initiated a descent immediately at the first signs of depressurization, disaster could've been avoided. ATC has the ability to dedicate the most time and resources to you once you've declared an emergency, so don't hesitate.


8) Talk To Your Passengers

Once you have time, don't forget to tell your passengers what's going on. Keep calm and assure them that the situation is under control. Don't leave them hanging for answers, and give them instructions on exactly what they should expect and do to help.


9) Focus On Physical Safety, Not Convenience

There have been multiple accidents resulting from pilots delaying a forced landing due to convenience. In one instance, the pilot of a twin engine Piper Seminole experienced an engine fire and shut down the engine. With the fire extinguished, he elected to continue flying towards an airport 30 miles away on his single operative engine.

After about 10 miles of flying, the engine fire re-ignited, engulfing the aircraft. The NTSB concluded that the fatality could've been prevented by a forced landing on numerous empty roads and fields nearby.


10) Write Down What You Learned

After an emergency or abnormal situation, it's a good idea to write down what you can remember, how you reacted, etc. It's a great way to realize what your natural reactions are and what you wish you had done differently.

Swayne Martin

Ready to start flying? Whether you're ready to start your aviation career, or you just have a few questions about learning to fly, get in touch with the UND Aerospace team today.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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