Dealing with Malfunctions - "Plane, Path, People"

"Plane, path and people" is an easy way to remember the order in which malfunctions should be dealt with. Whether it be a simulated exercise, or real situation, by following these three steps you ensure that all the applicable actions are taken to ensure a successful outcome of the flight.


1) Ensure the aircraft is on a safe heading and at a safe height.

Considerations include

  • Increasing the power on the live (if an engine failure) or both engines.
  • Changing the aircraft's heading if aiming at high terrain.
  • If in icing conditions, considering exiting as soon as possible or ensuring that all available de-ice and anti-ice equipment is activated.

2) Identify and confirm the problem

  • If you are flying with more than one pilot, ensure they also identify and confirm the problem.

3) Carry out any memory/phase one items applicable to the problem (e.g. engine fail/fire/shutdown memory items).

Once these items are completed, the plane is now secured and flying safely.


It is now time to make a plan as to what you are going to do with the aircraft and where you need to take it.

1) Who's Flying?

  • If you operate in a two pilot environment - decide who is flying. Sometimes it may be better for the captain to monitor all that is going on while the first officer flies the aircraft.

2) Where are we going?
Decide on a suitable alternate to land at, taking into consideration:

  • The nature of the problem and the facilities at the chosen aerodrome.
  • Weather at the aerodrome and what approach will need to be carried out.
  • Ensure you have sufficient fuel to travel to the diversion aerodrome.

3) How much time do we need?
Unless the situation is serious (such as a fire that will not extinguish) many aircraft can happily fly around with an engine shut-down or other systems failed. You will however have to inform people of your situation (ATC, airline operations, flight attendants and passengers) and carry out any additional checks not yet completed (QRH items and approach briefs/checks). If need be, ensure you give yourself extra time to confirm you have covered everything off before you land. To do this you might:

  • Ask for entry into a holding pattern.
  • Hold visually clear of the airfield.
  • Request vectors from ATC for extra track miles.

4) Execute
Once you have decided on your plan, execute it. However, it is important to re-evaluate your decisions and if need be, change things.


Finally it is time to communicate to all the appropriate parties what has happened and what you intend to do.

  • Air traffic control - advise them of your intentions and any requirements you have. If necessary consider a pan-pan or mayday call.
  • Other crew - ensure the rest of the crew knows what is going on. The flight attendant may need to prepare the cabin and the passengers for an emergency landing, as such, make sure you know how much time they need to do this. (Consider a "NITS" brief = Nature, Intentions, Time and Special Requirements).
  • Operations - ATC will generally contact your airline operations and emergency management systems will come into play.


When dealing with a malfunction on board an aircraft, it is essential to stay calm and methodically assess and the deal with the situation. By remembering the "plane, path, people" rule, you will be better able to do this an ensure that nothing is left to chance.

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