Instructional Blog: In-Flight Emergencies 101 – Part 3

In our last post we continued the IFE discussion by moving on to analyzing the emergency situation at hand and taking the appropriate action. Now that you’ve got things under control and figured out, it’s time to move on to the final step:

1. Maintain aircraft control
2. Analyze the situation
3. Take the appropriate action
4. Land as soon as conditions permit

Land as Soon as Conditions Permit

For some emergencies, getting the aircraft back on the ground immediately is not the answer. You may need to burn down some fuel weight before attempting a landing (as in the case of a landing gear malfunction or blown tire). Your checklist should differentiate between “land as soon as possible” and “land as soon as practical.” If the checklist tells you to land as soon as possible, that means you need to point to the nearest airfield or suitable landing site and get the aircraft on the ground now.

Again, go slower to go faster. In a land as soon as possible situation you need to take sufficient time to set up for a safe approach and landing. A go-around due to a botched approach may potentially make matters worse if a go-around is even possible in the first place. This is where you take that slightly extended vector if necessary to get your ducks in a row before making your landing attempt. You may not have time to set up for the perfect landing conditions, but you need to ensure you can make a safe – perhaps not necessarily perfect – approach and landing.

In a “land as soon as practical” situation, you have the time to move the chess pieces and set up for the optimal approach and landing. Here is where you bring things like optimal runway length, emergency services available, traffic pattern saturation, etc. into your decision of where to land.

In any case, you’re going to be doing some talking on the radio. That’s right, we’re at the last step before I mentioned talking on the radio. If at any point you are interrupted by a radio call from ATC or another aircraft while you have your hands full with an IFE, either a) respond with “Standby”, or b) don’t respond immediately. If ATC is squawking at you and you can’t spare a brain byte to talk, roll your transponder to 7700 and keep on handling your emergency.

When you are ready to talk, come up with your game plan, take a deep breath, and calmly talk to the controlling agency to relay your situation. Never hesitate to declare an emergency. If you are wondering whether or not you should declare, you probably should. You as a pilot are the final authority as to how you will deal with an IFE. Yes, YOU are in control. The Airman’s Information Manual (AIM) chapter 6 is all the justification you need to do what you have to do in order to get the aircraft safely on the ground. (http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/ATpubs/AIM/aim0601.html)

Other Considerations

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.” It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of preparation when meeting an IFE face-to-face. Hours of study and practice are required to prepare you for handling the most heinous of emergencies.

Air Force student pilots spend several weeks memorizing the notes, warnings and cautions in the flight manual before they are allowed to even touch the simulator. Once they have demonstrated proficiency in the books, they must demonstrate proficiency in the simulator. Then, and only then, are the students allowed to step out to the aircraft and take to the skies.

Unless you are in a professional student pilot program, you don’t have the luxury of time on your side to get through hours of book learning and simulator training. In this case the onus falls squarely on your shoulders to spend your free time wisely by studying and “chair flying” emergency procedures associated with your aircraft. Know the various systems of your aircraft and practice them.

Start with learning about the engine(s). Know everything you can about the flight controls, the electrical system, the hydraulic system (if your aircraft has one), the pneumatic system, etc. You get the point. Proper preparation will give you the confidence you need to face an emergency situation without freezing up

In summary, emergency procedures don’t have to be terrifying situations. By following some simple time-proven steps and by properly preparing yourself you can engage any IFE with confidence and success.

We’d like to hear your stories about handling IFEs and things you found helpful in such situations. You can sign in and leave a comment, or submit your story for publication in the “Pilot Stories” blog by clicking here.

FLY SAFE!

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