If you’re anything like me, and the very sight of someone vomiting makes you turn green, then you are probably thinking this is a ‘MAYDAY’ situation and we need to land immediately – right?

We all have different reactions to situations – what may seem like a life-or-death to one pilot, may be just a bit of an uncomfortable challenge to another, which is why the law helps us out by defining (see AIC 40.2) exactly what is an urgent situation and what is a distress. So let’s clear this up for you.

The only time you should make a Mayday day call over the radio is when there is a distress situation. A distress situation is legally one where an aircraft is threatened by ‘grave and imminent danger’, which means that the safety of the aircraft, and all on board is seriously under threat, and immediate assistance is required. So this means that a sick passenger or cabin crew member is NOT an immediate MAYDAY! Essentially, situations that are scarier than vomit on a hire-and-fly seat are real emergencies. Flames coming from the engine (that not even Mc Gyver could recover from), or a silent (dead) engine with no suitable landing area in sight are distress situations. If you have a field in sight, then this is NOT a Mayday!

This then brings me to the less scary situation – the ‘urgency’ or ‘PAN’. A ‘PAN’ call is only made where the aircraft or it’s occupants has a safety situation, but does not require immediate assistance. This basically means a precautionary landing – the situation is serious, but does not require search and rescue teams to be immediately dispatched. Although an engine failure is a serious one, if you DO HAVE a suitable landing area in sight, then this is a PAN. The vomiting passenger, or your own case of dodgy Durban curry, is, alas, urgent but not dire…

One last thing, should you manage to pull off a McGyver, and resolve your situation, then please don’t forget to cancel the call –  ‘CANCEL PAN’ or ‘CANCEL MAYDAY’ – alot of people will be relieved, and you won’t be wasting valuable resources.

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