So You Have an Emergency. Relax

The first priority of any pilot is to fly the airplane. Even during the most time critical emergency, aircraft control must be maintained. Nevermind the flashing red lights, the best way to overcome adversity in the cockpit is to remain calm. In the disco-esque words of Michael Penniman: “relax, take it easy!”

Abnormalities and emergencies call upon our judgement and aeronautical decision making skills. When problems arise, the pilot is confronted by several indications and warnings all competing for attention. It is easy to forget those three primary tasks: aviate, navigate, and communicate.


Emergencies can force pilots into a “do something fast” mindset, but our first impulse may not neccessarily be the best course of action. As John King said, “there’s no problem you can’t make worse by going too fast”. Continue to fly the airplane and consider the situation.

Often, in-flight emergencies are accompanied by related systems failures and abnormalities. Prioritize these issues and deal with each abnormality individually in order of importance (time permitting, of course). Although this approach may seem somewhat myopic, it has one distinct advantage: pilot workload is kept to a minimum.

Ignorance is Bliss

Sometimes the best course of action is to ignore the problem. Think big-picture: never let any emergency allow you to compromise safety of flight. Nowhere is this more important than during the most critical phases of flight, namely takeoff and landing.

For example, last January I experienced an APU overtemp warning in the CRJ on short final. Although our procedure is to call for the emergency checklist, I felt that the safest course of action was to continue the approach and land the airplane. My captain concurred and we landed uneventfully and resolved the issue on the ground.

You’ve already been trained to do this. If you lose power on takeoff, what do you do? The automatic response is “land straight ahead”. This is just another case where it may be necessary to ignore the emergency in favor of safely flying the aircraft.

As in any ADM situation, judgement is key. Never underestimate the importance of flying the airplane. Keep your head straight and take your time dealing with issues one-at-a-time. Relax.

There are a handful of emergencies that may require impulsive and immediate action. Check back for next week’s discussion on immediate action items.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

4 Replies to So You Have an Emergency. Relax

  1. Great post Pat! Very well articulated and to the point!

    I always appreciate great aviation content!

    Adding you to my RSS! Stay in touch!


    • Thanks Jason, doing what I can :)

      • wferston says:

        Thank you for reading and replying to my blog. The reason the autopilot disengaged is that the plane( Beechcraft Bonanza) experienced severe local turbulence caused by the near lightning strike. The autopilot is supposed to do just that. This prevents severe over correction by the AP, which might impose high g forces. The plane, being basically stable will self correct with some imput from the pilot of course in a safer manner. This is the only time in my 40 years of flying this has happened. However, I have disconnected the AP, even in light twins in heavy turbulence for the above reason.

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