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Author Topic: Pilot POV Question - Declaring an Emergency  (Read 56313 times)
onesierrawhiskey
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« on: February 24, 2010, 03:33:42 PM »

Hey everyone,

Part of my ongoing side studies involves looking airport operations, disruptions etc. I'm trying to understand the kind of airport operations and impacts that occur to the airport, to the airline, to the pilot, when a pilot declares an emergency and is given priority over other aircraft. I usually get reports of anywhere from 5-8 'emergency landings' in Class B airports in a day, or, incidents where emergency or ground crews stage near the active runway for an inspection. Most all end up safe landings. I'm trying to understand the nuances of what declaring an emergency entails for all involved. More importantly, I'm trying to understand the nuances of when a pilot chooses to declare an emergency, or a pan-pan, instead of not declaring etc.

When a pilot has a flap disagree, or a hydraulic problem, or a cabin depressurization, smoke in the cockpit, they probably choose to declare. What other considerations motivate pilots to declare an emergency, or not to? Does a pilot face negative consequences for declaring an emergency when 'reasonable judgment' says one isn't required? Are there strict airline or FAA policies that govern this or provide the criteria for this?

I know these are very wide questions, so I will hypothesize with an example:
- A E-190 pilot is trying to get into PHL, behind schedule, burned a little extra fuel, and has an indicator light for something like low oil pressure. Does a emergency declare occur only when some tangible threat occurs? What keeps a pilot from declaring just to get priority for landing?

Thanks in advance. PM me or responses here would be most appreciated.

[Edit - fixed helplessly inane and inaccurate grammar]
« Last Edit: February 24, 2010, 06:15:44 PM by WS » Logged
captray
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2010, 05:35:36 PM »

I'll give you my opinions, but first, exactly what are you trying to accomplish?
Do you work for the FAA or are you doing a paper for school?
You mention Pan-Pan, if you are from the States you would know that we don't use that phrasology here.
So, your turn.
Elaborate!
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onesierrawhiskey
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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2010, 06:08:07 PM »

Nope, no g-man here. I work for a private company working in incident management and supply chain logistics. One of my pet projects is working on documenting the effects, however minor, of disruptions to flight schedules due to weather, traffic, unforeseen emergencies, etc. As part of my view, I usually get alerted when first responders or ground crews are asked to stage in response to emergency landings. This isn't just a USA-centric study, hence my mention of pan-pan, but most of my exposure to the subject is on the American side. I'm trying to derive the difference between reports on in-flight malfunctions versus emergencies, and to what severity level that some of these emergency landings I get reports of.
I am from the States, but I disagree that everyone from the states would necessarily know anything about mayday calls, much less whether Pan-pan is American or not.

In sum: my first attempt is trying to nail down how many emergency landings are the full-blown "movie" emergencies, and how many turn out to cause no disruption. What is the motivation for a pilot to declare an emergency. What's the benefit? What's the control that keeps pilots from declaring emergencies anytime they're just running late and don't want to get stacked in a hold, etc. Private messages are fine if people would not like to publicly disclose, or share.

Hope this helps clear things up.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2010, 06:11:10 PM by WS » Logged
atcman23
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2010, 02:05:34 AM »

I'll do my best to answer of these questions:

1) Not very many emergency landings are like what you see in the movies.  Pilots don't usually like creating movies on such short notice without some sort of monetary benefit (added humor).

2) Most emergency situations do not cause major disruptions however, it all comes down to the nature of the emergency.  Things such as a gear light not in the green usually don't cause issues until landing.  Most pilots will usually request a low approach so controllers and other ground crew and determine if the gear is down and if it is damaged (for instance, the Jet Blue A320 where the nose gear twisted 90 degrees).  If all looks well, it's up to the pilot to decide what he wants to do and some may request that they stop on the runway once the landing has completed and deplane on the runway.  That closes the runway and could cause problems (depending on the airport).

3)  I don't think pilot's are motivated to declare an emergency.  Declaring an emergency creates a lot of paperwork and explaining and they'd better be able to back it up.  Yes, when a pilot declares an emergency in the US, it allows them to deviate from every rule in the FAR, but they better be able to explain or show why deviating from a particular rule was necessary.  There's no benefit in declaring an emergency when none exists. 

4)  The control that keeps pilots from declaring an emergency that doesn't exist is simple... they don't want to lose their license or be stuck with the bill for those emergency services.  Things run late from time to time and it just goes with the job.  You do what you can within reason.

In summary, pilots only declare an emergency when it's necessary (and depending on the airline, some airline policies may also dictate that when something in particular goes wrong that the crew declares an emergency).  The same goes for priority, (which is not an emergency situation) however, with priority you are trying to avoid declaring an emergency.  Also keep in mind that air traffic controllers in the U.S. can also declare an emergency for an aircraft if, in their judgment, one is warranted. If anything, I believe pilots are a bit hesitant on declaring an emergency because they believe that they have tings under control when in fact the opposite may be true.  I've heard many situations where the controller has asked the pilot if they want to declare an emergency.

Lastly, based on your questions, I would recommend going to Amazon and finding books on Human Factors in Aviation.  It may help you out a little bit with how and why pilots think they way they do and respond to situations they way they do.
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Mark Spencer
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« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2010, 05:49:04 AM »

I don't have a lot of answers to your questions, but perhaps you want to clarify in your research differences between civilian and military flights. Declaring an emergency is very different for GA/Airline pilots vs. Military. For civilian pilots when to declare an emergency seems to be a more objective decision. In contrast there are many things that a military pilot will declare an emergency for that either doesn't come up for civilian pilots (G-Loc, Over G, 'physiological incident') or that they are required to by internal regulation. One example is engine failure, of course if you're in an F16 (single engine fighter) an engine failure is a very bad thing. However in a B52 (8 engine bomber) a single engine failure is a slightly less intense issue. Both however require the pilot to declare. In my experience with the military they will declare an emergency for almost any kind of problem (smoke in the cockpit, unsafe gear indication, etc.). Whereas I just worked an airliner the other day that had a slat disagree light and after running some checklist landed normally without declaring an emergency. I also know of another case where a airliner wasn't showing all gear locked, after working the problem they decided to land w/o declaring an emergency or even notifying ATC. They landed with the nose gear up. You could argue that was a mistake, but I doubt a military plane would have even considered not declaring. *Just to clarify I don't mean to say one way better then the other, just pointing out that there was a very different mentality between military and civilian pilots

Lastly both Pan-Pan and Mayday are used in the USA. Both are referenced in the ATC handbook (7110.65), and the AIM. How much they are actually used in practice is a whole other discussion.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2010, 11:07:39 AM by sykocus » Logged

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captray
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« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2010, 06:46:04 AM »

All of the above are excellent posts and have said it much better than I could have.
Let me add just a few comments from a pilot's perspective; Declaring a fuel emergency to get to the front of the line will get you in trouble, that trick may work once but the regs require 45 minutes of fuel upon reaching your alternate.
As was stated above, after declaring an emergency you may deviate from the FAR's as nessesary. But be ready to explain your actions.
Declaring an emergency does not automatically require a report to the NTSB or FAA unless specifically asked for one. There are reports required for accidents or incidents but not for a general emergency. (I think that the words 'priority handling" are in that catch phrse)
One of my company's pilot had to do a precuationary shutdown of an engine over the ocean. They declared an emergency, turned and headed for Bermuda then started decending. The aircraft won't maintain altitude on one engine. They were also patched through to ATC directly even though they were on the HF frequency. They asked for the emergency equipment to be in position upon landing. It all worked out OK. The engine had to be replaced, there was no paper work and it proves that training and simulators are worth the time and effort.
I feel that declaring an emergency is something that a lot of pilots are afraid to do. Whether it is a fear of the FAA or a macho thing, I don't know. Personally if I have a problem I'll take all the help I can get! I know that by declaring an emergency I'll have some of the best in the business on my side, doing whatever they can to make it successful out come.
Also, don't forget that the controller can declare an emergency for you. If they feel that you are in trouble, over your head or are too busy. So, it is a two way street and we all work together.
Lastly, in over 10,000 hours of flying domestic and internationally, I have never heard anyone use Pan-Pan. I know it's in the regs. I have heard Mayday-Mayday and 'I'd like to declare an Emergency'.

Hope this helps.
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Pilot3033
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« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2010, 07:47:35 PM »

during my initial training, I took at 172 out for a spin to practice slow flight and steep turns. On my way back, the oil door on the nose popped open. There was no visible leaking and oil pressure remained constant and in the green, so I continued without even notifying ATC, landed normally and taxied to the flight school. Turned out the latching mechanism was a little worn, they had it replaced the next day.

Of the recordings I've heard of GA pilots getting into situations one might consider an "emergency," more often then not the pilot describes a problem but never outright says "I declare an emergency." Understandable, especially when you don't want to admit there's a problem, or you think about the discussion we're having right now about what does and does not qualify. For example, a 172 pilot who notices his flaps aren't coming out might inform ATC of the problem, but might not. Flown right, and with enough runway, a 172 doesn't need the flaps to land. If the field is short, or traffic high, ATC has a better chance of being told. Even then, I'm not sure I'd call it an "emergency" so much as a "heads up."

As far as your scenario goes, there are many other factors involved. The pilots would run through the checklist for low oil pressure indication, and try and troubleshoot the issue. How long has the light been on? are there other signs of an issue? (low engine RPM, low fuel flow, low oil indicator, etc). If they were a little low on fuel, they'd have to decide if they thought traffic would let them get in ok, if they needed to divert to an alternate, or if they needed to declare a fuel emergency. Do you have enough fuel to divert? Do you have enough to attempt a landing? Is weather bad? If it is bad, do you have enough to attempt 2 or more landings? Can you attempt a landing at the bad weather airport, but have enough fuel to go to the alternate?

The most likely scenario for low fuel in the airline department is a diversion. If JFK is slammed, the weather is deteriorating, and you don't think you have enough fuel to sit in a holding patter for an hour and a half, you're going to go someplace else.

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onesierrawhiskey
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« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2010, 10:45:11 PM »

I was away for a bit and wanted to let the thread get some open air time before I responded. I appreciate them all, thanks for the insight. It's all helpful to get whatever perspective there is on nuances of what can be a stressful situation for pilots and controllers alike. I'm getting a better view on the impacts of an emergency for the pilot (beyond the immediate land-the-plane issue), and impacts for controllers as well as reprioritization of the sequence, etc. Thanks for all the responses.
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n07cfi
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« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2010, 10:10:10 AM »

Just wanted to bring up a point on emergencies.  

In GA, I don't think ATC/controllers can declare an emergency on behalf of the pilot.  I think they will first ask the pilot, "are you declaring an emergency?" - which is a phrase I've heard on many occasions.  I've overheard gear-up unsafe condition, winshield break, bird strike, oil leak situations in conversations between ATC and pilots from my years of flying.

However I can think of one specific situation where it's understood it's an emergency - let's say a pilot has a heart attack and is unconscious, and the non-pilot passenger converses with ATC in trying to get the airplane back down on the ground safely.  In this era of political correctness, I wouldn't be surprised if ATC still inquires the passenger whether he/she is declaring an emergency.
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atcman23
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« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2010, 05:57:13 AM »

The 7110.65 gives controllers the authority to declare an emergency on an aircraft.  Usually they don't tell the aircraft ("I'm declaring you an emergency aircraft"), however they provide all the service that they can and let other controllers that will handle that aircraft know that it is an emergency. 

Usually they will ask the pilot; if they say no but, if in the controller's judgment, an emergency situation may exist, they will handle that aircraft as if he did declare an emergency.

It's not often that a controller will do this; however it is something that they can do if necessary.
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Mark Spencer
Cap747
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« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2010, 06:03:44 PM »

Well in Europe we do hear Pan-Pan's, mostly medical emergencies, but most technical situations are first handled by communication with the ground staff through dispatch... that's what makes listening to the ops frequenties interesting...
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onesierrawhiskey
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« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2010, 02:09:08 PM »

Another secondary reason I opened this thread is that in my job, I sometimes get word of developing aviation incidents as they are occurring. Usually I'm lucky enough to hear about an IFE while the aircraft is still in the air, but 80-90 percent of the time, my first alert comes when an aircraft has landed and it leaves me trolling through the archives if we had a feed here.

I want to start giving quicker notifications to liveatc when I get word something is developing, and I want to filter out the standard incidents when rescue crews stage for an quick outside inspection for a landing gear light instead of an actual legitimate IFE. The trick is in my position, notifications for both types of incidents are the same, and I would like to differentiate so I'm not sending everyone searching archives for an 'emergency' landing caused by a piqued EGT indication, etc.
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Cap747
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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2010, 11:18:48 PM »

I think you want to understand in what exact situations pilots give a mayday, in GA it would be when a airplane has to land outside the airport, or when loss of engine power, in commercial aviation it's the same, but since most aircraft have multiple engines and their training to fly with one (or more) engines, they declare it not a mayday and return to the airport or a nearby airport. When they have a uncontrollable situation they will call it a mayday... It's all part of pilot training and how the airline company wants the pilots to act.
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djmodifyd
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« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2010, 08:37:18 PM »

Just wanted to bring up a point on emergencies.  

In GA, I don't think ATC/controllers can declare an emergency on behalf of the pilot.  I think they will first ask the pilot, "are you declaring an emergency?" - which is a phrase I've heard on many occasions.  I've overheard gear-up unsafe condition, winshield break, bird strike, oil leak situations in conversations between ATC and pilots from my years of flying.

However I can think of one specific situation where it's understood it's an emergency - let's say a pilot has a heart attack and is unconscious, and the non-pilot passenger converses with ATC in trying to get the airplane back down on the ground safely.  In this era of political correctness, I wouldn't be surprised if ATC still inquires the passenger whether he/she is declaring an emergency.

yes..a controller can declare an emergency....atcman hit it on the nose.

actually i have done this before, a few times.  If i decide it is an emergency i make it one...and i won't even tell the pilot, but he/she can figure it out when i ask for souls and fuel.

The latest one was a cherokee, as soon as he took off he said he wanted to return because his left main gear was wobbling, he never said it was an emergency, but i declared it for him because in my opinion wobbly gear isn't a very safe situation.  The pilot also didn't object, so possibly they would have called it to, i just jumped the gun.


long story short..yes the controller can. Smiley
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jedgar
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« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2010, 10:02:57 AM »

Sorry to bring back an old thread, but I thought it was better than starting a new one.

If a pilot uses mayday, does he also have to declare an emergency, or is using mayday enough? Also, if a pilot can't declare, can he just squawk 7700?
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atcman23
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« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2010, 04:27:55 PM »

Using the word "mayday" is declaring an emergency. Most pilots will just say "we'd like to declare an emergency" since it's much easier to do that than just start blurting out "mayday."  Squawking 7700 also means you are declaring an emergency but most times it's not done (it's not required) and if they are talking to a controller and you're on a ATC assigned beacon code it's not necessary to change it.  The controller knows who you are and where you're at and there's no need to have a 7700 tag blow up on his scope and flash (and everyone else's scope for that matter).  The squawking 7700 thing is probably better if you lose comms due to the actual emergency and can't talk to ATC.  If you just lose comms you would want to squawk 7600.

And don't forget a controller can also declare an emergency if, in their best judgment, one may exist.
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Mark Spencer
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« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2010, 08:24:32 PM »

Using the word "mayday" is declaring an emergency. Most pilots will just say "we'd like to declare an emergency" since it's much easier to do that than just start blurting out "mayday."  Squawking 7700 also means you are declaring an emergency but most times it's not done (it's not required) and if they are talking to a controller and you're on a ATC assigned beacon code it's not necessary to change it.  The controller knows who you are and where you're at and there's no need to have a 7700 tag blow up on his scope and flash (and everyone else's scope for that matter).  The squawking 7700 thing is probably better if you lose comms due to the actual emergency and can't talk to ATC.  If you just lose comms you would want to squawk 7600.

And don't forget a controller can also declare an emergency if, in their best judgment, one may exist.


Thanks for your reply. The only reason I asked is because I recently listened to an emergency on here, and the pilot said something like "mayday,mayday,mayday descending to FL 100" and then the controller talked to him for a while and then asked if he'd like to declare an emergency... I thought maybe it was a somewhat redundant question.
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atcman23
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« Reply #17 on: April 16, 2010, 05:31:39 AM »

Sounds like a redundant question to me.  The pilot said "mayday" and that automatically says "emergency."  Not a big deal though.
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Mark Spencer
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« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2010, 11:15:18 AM »

well an good ? I  guess
1 I am a pilot in training so I may not be the bet of help there but I am a merchant seaman a captain in the US Merchant Marines for almost 15 years and I have 20 years in. As the norm Pan pan is used when a third party is in the mix in other words your sinking you call the USCG and they will broadcast a Pan pan pan pan pan pan Hello all stations this is the US Coast Guard Sector ---- the following emergency marine information is as followed the vessel ----- was last reported sinking at lat ---- and long ---- all vessels are to keep a sharp lookout and report all sightings to the USCG this is the USCG Sector--- out 

see a third party Maydays are for the first party.

I don't  know if this helps you I do hope it does not make it worse
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atcman23
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« Reply #19 on: April 18, 2010, 12:21:29 PM »

For aviation purposes, "pan-pan" and "mayday" are used differently.  I've never heard of another aircraft declaring an emergency for an aircraft they were not piloting.
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Mark Spencer
oneup1982
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« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2010, 03:55:34 PM »

I am not sure, but I don't think another aircraft can declare an emergency for you. I suppose under extenuating circumstances that might not be true.
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atcman23
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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2010, 08:32:35 AM »

Could be wrong, but I don't think it's written anywhere that another aircraft cannot declare an emergency for another aircraft.  At the same time, I don't think any pilot is going to declare an emergency for another aircraft as they are not piloting the aircraft and have no idea what is going on inside that aircraft's cockpit.
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Mark Spencer
djmodifyd
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« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2010, 07:25:13 PM »

Could be wrong, but I don't think it's written anywhere that another aircraft cannot declare an emergency for another aircraft.  At the same time, I don't think any pilot is going to declare an emergency for another aircraft as they are not piloting the aircraft and have no idea what is going on inside that aircraft's cockpit.

you are correct, another pilot cannot declare an emergency for a different aircraft
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matthammer
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« Reply #23 on: May 11, 2010, 12:57:40 AM »

I remember at least one instance where ATC declared an emergency for a pilot at the airport I trained at. The pilot had reported a rough engine after takeoff, wanted to return to land, so ATC declared for him. I don't think the pilot was particularly happy about it, either. Wink

I've never declared personally. Only time I've ever even considered it was as a commercial student, flying solo, when my mixture control decided to fall out of the panel at about 6000 feet (leaned out). I elected to keep it to myself unless the engine started running rough. Everything worked out fine, and I learned later that (apparently) the mixture controls are designed to move to the full-rich position in the event that the mixture control breaks.

My personal take on declaring is that it's a good idea any time there's a potentially life threatening situation which cannot be safely resolved without either busting regs or without being on the ground. Declaring isn't even that big a deal, and there's no reason to believe that it will *absolutely* result in tons of paperwork, interviews, etc. You're not gonna get a call from the FAA if you declare for a rough engine, strange odor in the cockpit and so on.

On a side note, you don't have to declare to have the authority to break regs. The pilot in command has the authority to do that *any* time he feels it is necessary for the safe outcome of the flight (CFR 14 § 91.3). Sure, it may result in that dreaded "report" request from the administrator. But as long as you had a legitimate reason, you should be fine. It's better to be safe than a smoking hole in the ground.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2010, 01:00:40 AM by matthammer » Logged
cessna157
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« Reply #24 on: June 21, 2010, 05:46:09 AM »

On a side note, you don't have to declare to have the authority to break regs. The pilot in command has the authority to do that *any* time he feels it is necessary for the safe outcome of the flight (CFR 14 § 91.3). Sure, it may result in that dreaded "report" request from the administrator. But as long as you had a legitimate reason, you should be fine. It's better to be safe than a smoking hole in the ground.


There was an article a year or two ago, written by an aviaiton lawyer, that described a few situations where it was determined to be an emergency, many years later.  One was of a pilot who was violated, and had certificate action taken against him, because he was PIC of a Boeing, and after takeoff, started turning the wrong direction.  The investigation revealed that although he was turning, he did not initially know it.  They realized there had been some sort of instrumentation flicker, but they just couldn't diagnose it.  The FAA took action against him, but he appealed to the NTSB.  They determined that he was distracted by a potential emergency situation due to equipment malfunction, and his record was cleaned of the incident.





As I worked in the ramp tower of my airline for many years, I was able to witness many emergencies, from the "light indicating a problem" to legitimate fires on board aircraft.  If you still need any additional stories, I'd be glad to help.
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