Engine Failure After Takeoff (EFATO)

What is an engine failure after takeoff (EFATO)?

An engine failure after takeoff can be considered as a failure of the engine to produce power any time from the point after the wheels leave the ground until the aircraft reaches 1000ft above the ground. It is a serious and potentially very dangerous situation and is the cause of many fatal accidents. It is widely considered as the single most stressful situation a pilot of a fixed-wing aircraft can experience. This is due to the slow speed of the climb out, low altitude and very small reaction time to mitigate the situation.


There are four main generic causes of an EFATO.

  • Fuel - This could be due to contamination (fuel quality) , starvation (fuel is not getting to the engine from the tanks), exhaustion (there is no fuel left in the tank), or pump failure.
  • Spark - The magneto system that provides the spark to the spark plugs may not be functioning correctly or at all.
  • Air - Ususually an air intake blockage, due to a birds nest, bird strike, FOD etc.
  • Mechanical - A total or partial failure of an engine component leading to loss of power. This includes the propeller.

Another cause may be due to fire, and any one of them is usually associated with pilot mishandling, either during pre-flight checks or incorrect lever/control positioning.


  • Ensure the engine temperature is warm before applying full power at any time.
  • Most of the causes can be picked up on the pre-flight inspection.
  • Maintenance is normally out of the pilot's hands, but a proper inspection can aid in spotting any abnormalities on the aircraft and passed on to an engineer.

Takeoff Brief

Most airlines and more so nowadays, light aircraft pilots are being encouraged to conduct a takeoff brief prior to leaving the ground in order to give the pilot a mental idea (visualisation) of exactly what is required should an engine failure occur. It also informs the crew of their roles duing the emergency and it improves situational awareness (eg Wind direction, terrain etc.). It is usually short and to the point but enough to build this mental picture.

An example is as follows:1

"This will be a normal / short field (delete one) takeoff on runway ………… with a …………… turn to depart ……………. climbing to ………..feet” 
In the event of any malfunction on the ground I will abort.  Engine failure airborne I will carry out standard emergency procedures and the plan today is make a landing …………………………. (be specific about landing site)”

What to do!?

In any emergency a pilot is taught from the ab-initio stages that there are only 3 things that absolutely must be done in order to mitigate an abnormal situation. They are specific in their order aswell.

AVIATE: Fly the aircraft as a priority! The usually means lowering the nose to the best glide speed. Lowering the nose is to avoid an inadvertent stall, due to the high nose attitude in the takeoff and climb out which are accompanied with low airspeeds. Close the throttle to reduce the indecision from any partial power that maybe apparent.

NAVIGATE: Follow the takeoff brief.
- Choose a landing site within 45o either side of the extended runway centreline (think of the wind).
- Use flap as required to make the landing site
- Avoid major obstacles
- Keep cabin intact by steering around power poles / fence posts etc.

Once these two have been completed, there may be enough time to carry out some emergency drills in an attempt to regain power in the engine. These are specific to aircraft type so will not be appropriate here.

COMMUNICATE: This is an additional task that may or may not be appropriate due to the time availiable. However should time permit a Mayday call will alert either ATC or other pilots to the situation and enable assistance to be organised more expeditiously. Setting the code '7700' (the emegency code) on the transponder will also alert ATC via radar to the situation.

The Impossible Turn

NEVER TURN BACK TO THE RUNWAY - There is usually not enough height to achieve this and coupled with the tailwind on landing is not recommended. This is known as the Impossible turn.

While simulating an engine failure on climb-out, the airplane was observed to enter a left teardrop maneuver as it attempted to return to the airport. During the turn, the airplane stalled, entered a spin, and impacted level terrain 1 nautical mile northeast of the departure end of runway 06. The reported winds were 060 degrees at 15 knots. According to the air traffic controller working the local control position, after completing several touch-and-go landings on runway 06, the instructor requested the first of two teardrop return to runway engine-out maneuvers. During the first one, the airplane made a left teardrop 180-degree turn as it attempted to land on runway 24. During the turn, the airplane appeared to lose a significant amount of altitude. The controller stated that the airplane recovered prior to landing, and then executed a go-around to reenter the traffic pattern. During the second attempt, the airplane again entered a teardrop turn to the left and then "spin to the ground." An examination of the wreckage revealed that the airplane impacted the terrain in a 70-degree nose down, left wing low attitude… At the last data sampling point, the engine rpm (revolutions per minute) was at 2,680 rpm, the engine manifold pressure was 27.5 inches, and the airplane electrical bus voltage was 27.5 volts. The recorded data did not show any engine or system anomalies. 2

Human Factors

  • Situational awareness is very important. Knowledge of whether the wind is coming from the left or right on takeoff etc. The takeoff brief helps to establish a degree of situational awareness.
  • Information processing can be assisted through the use of checklists, mnemonics, and careful pre-flight planning.
  • Stress can be reduced through overlearing and visualisation on the ground of what to do. The purpose of overlearning is to develop an automatic response that best utilises the time available, by overcoming the initial surprise or shock and enhancing the decision-making process.
  • Regular practice of aborted takeoff’s and EFATO’s will help to establish an automatic response.

What is a successful outcome?

To Survive.

This was a successful outcome. 1


As was this.

1. Massey University School of Aviation (September 2009). Engine Failure After Takeoff. Mass brief, 2009.
2. NTSB via AOPA (2006). ASF Accident Details - NTSB Number: LAX06FA087. http://www.aopa.org/asf/ntsb/narrative.cfm?ackey=1&evid=20060118X00087.
2. Civil Aviation Authority New Zealand (1998). Engine Failure After Takeoff – What If?. Vector, Issue 3 1998. http://www.caa.govt.nz/Publications/Vector/Vector_1998_Issue-3_May.pdf.

Want to know more?

Engine Failure After Takeoff – What If? Vector, Issue 3 1998.
Vector Magazine Article

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