Aerodrome Emergencies

Aircraft Emergencies

When an emergency experienced by an aircraft occurs in flight and radio communications still exist, the pilot-in-command of that aircraft is responsible for advising the appropriate Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit and for nominating the desired state of readiness / emergency response (See below) of the aerodrome and local emergency services. If communications between the aircraft and ATC are strained or non-existant, and a problem becomes known, the ATC unit will assess the situation and bring the aerodrome and local emergency services to the state of readiness considered appropriate.

Aerodrome Emergency Plan

The purpose of an aerodrome emergency plan is to prepare emergency services and aerodrome operators to cope with an emergency occurring on or in the vicinity of the aerodrome. The plan dictates and advises the procedures to be carried out for coordinating the response of different aerodrome services and those emergency services in the local area that could be of assistance in an emergency, such as the local Police, Fire, Coast Guard, Military and Ambulance etc.

Examples of the types of emergencies are:

  • aircraft defects / malfunctions serious enough possibly to impede safe flight;
  • sabotage of aviation related equipment;
  • bomb threats;
  • unlawfully seized aircraft;
  • dangerous goods incidents;
  • building fires; and
  • natural disasters.

An aerodrome emergency plan exists at all aerodromes that have regular air transport services by aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats.2

Activation of Aerodrome Emergency Services1

The Air Traffic Service (Air Traffic Control) unit on the aerodrome has the responsiblity for alerting the emergency services, following a request from a pilot or when an aircraft is considered to be in such a danger as determined by the Air Traffic Controller on watch requiring any of the following emergency phases:

  • Local Standby Phase: is defined when an aircraft is approaching an aerodrome in such a manner that there would not normally prevent it from making a safe landing, but has a defect of some kind. LOCAL STANDBY PHASE declaration will bring all aerodrome emergency services to a state of readiness. Local emergency services will be notified but remain at their respective bases on stand-by.1
  • Full Emergency Phase: is defined when an aircraft is approaching an aerodrome in such a manner that there is a danger of an accident occuring. FULL EMERGENCY PHASE declaration will bring all aerodrome and local emergency services (such as police, fire services, ambulance and medical) together at a common location on the airfield. Local hospitals will be alerted to prepare for casualties and the police will control traffic and roads in such a way as a clear path from the aerodrome to the hospital and other emergency services routes are clear enough to uninhibited access.1
  • Aircraft Accident Phase: is defined when an aircraft has had an accident on or in the vicinity of an aerodrome. When the AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT PHASE is declared, all available emergency services will be brought into action in accordance with the emergency plan.1

Emergency Exercises

Actual Emergencies

Photos below taken during a Full Emergency at Palmerston North International Airport as requested by an aircraft with undercarriage problems.

Scene where aircraft came to a halt. Rescue Fire, Police & Ambulance services in attendance

Looking towards the command post where media, and external services have gathered in preparation for the landing

Aerodrome Rescue Fire Categories

Aerodromes are required to provide suitable Rescue Fire equipment appropriate to the largest aircraft flying into the aerodrome. The level of service provided is determined by a category scale 1-10 where each aircraft falls under a particular category and requires that level of Rescue Fire. For example an A320 aircraft requires a Category 6 rescue fire service, meaning an aerodrome must have Cat 6 services availiable for that aircraft.

The Categories are defind for aircraft as follows:3 The corresponding rescue fire equipment required is as follows: 3
catsjc.jpg cats2u.jpg

One further requirement for the equipment required is the minimum number of vehicles (namely Fire Trucks) availiable at the aerodrome.

  • Cat 1-5 requires 1 Fire Truck
  • Cat 6-7 requires 2 Fire Trucks
  • Cat 8-10 requires 3 or more Fire Trucks but is usually many more.

Category 9 Rescue Fire Service at Auckland International Airport: 4

1Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (March 2004). Aerodrome Emergencies., 2004. Aeronautical Information Publication. 2Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (August 2008). Aerodrome Certification - Aerodrome Emergency Plan. 3ICAO (January 1990). ICAO Annex 14 - Aerodromes, Chapter 9 Aerodrome Operational Services, Equipment and Installations. Published by ICAO, Montreal. 4Quinn, D (5 October 2009). Auckland International Airport Rescue.

Want to know more?

Aerodrome Certification
Part 139 Aerodromes - Emergency Requirements
Sydney Airport Emergency Plan
Emergency Plan
Emergency Landings
Wiki Article on Emergency Landings

Contributors to this page

Compiled by Keagan Gaarkeuken

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