Modern regulations mean that if a pilot declares an emergency of any sort then all the services will be in position when the aircraft lands and will escort it to the parking area.

The only time most of us think about the ‘safety’ side of an airport is when we read or hear that a plane has made an unscheduled landing and that the emergency services were in attendance. What does it mean in reality? In the old days, a pilot could call for a fire engine or an ambulance to be available when he landed. The pilot could describe the problem and would suggest the sort of help he needed.

A commercial plane is only allowed to land at an airport that has the required amount of ‘service’ cover available. At airports where Jumbo jet can land the fire, rescue and ambulance services have to be at a higher level than at a small municipal airport. Airports, in any case, have to meet stringent requirements with regard to getting to different locations in specified periods of time. Access routes have to be provided and maintained. It’s not like taking a fire engine through the streets. Airport fire services are very strictly controlled. 

Among their many duties, the fire services are responsible for fuel spillages. If you see a fire engine near your plane don’t be alarmed, their attendance is not an indication of danger. An aircraft reporting any problem with its braking system, tyres or wheels will always be accompanied to its parking place by a fire truck.

You may see the emergency vehicles moving around the airport … this does not mean that there is a problem with a plane … they may be undergoing training or vehicle maintenance. Medical services are always available at airports and sick passengers on an aircraft will always take priority over anything else. The emergency or safety services as we call them now are responsible for keeping the runways and taxiways clear of FOD (Foreign Object Debris) and ensuring that birds are kept away from aircraft.

Aircrew undergo regular safety training with the safety services and are trained in elements of onboard fire fighting.

The international distress call for boats and planes is the word ‘Mayday’ from the French, M’aidez …help me. If a pilot transmits a MAYDAY message all other aircraft have to stop using that radio frequency OR if there is no reply to the message, they have to RELAY the message to the controllers with whom they are in contact.

Pan-Pan is the international urgency signal that is used as a preface when the safety of a person or people is in serious jeopardy but no immediate danger exists.

Best wishes,

Captain Keith

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