Emergency landing

An emergency landing is a prioritised landing made by an aircraft in response to an emergency containing an imminent or ongoing threat to the safety and operation of the aircraft or involving a sudden need for a passenger or crew on board to be on land, such as a medical emergency.

It is usually a forced diversion to the nearest or most suitable airport or airbase, in which air traffic control must prioritise and give way immediately upon the declaration of the emergency.


There are several different types of emergency landings for powered aircraft: planned landing or unplanned landing.

  • Forced landing – the aircraft is forced to make a landing due to technical problems. Landing as soon as possible is a priority, no matter where, since a major system failure has occurred or is imminent. It is caused by the failure of or damage to vital systems such as engines, hydraulics, or landing gear, and so a landing must be attempted where a runway is needed but none is available. The pilot is essentially trying to get the aircraft on the ground in a way which minimizes the possibility of injury or death to the people aboard. This means that the forced landing may even occur when the aircraft is still flyable, in order to prevent a crash or ditching situation.
  • Precautionary landing may result from a planned landing at a location about which information is limited, from unanticipated changes during the flight, or from abnormal or even emergency situations. This may be as a result of problems with the aircraft, or a medical or police emergency. The sooner a pilot locates and inspects a potential landing site, the less the chance of additional limitations being imposed by worsening aircraft conditions, deteriorating weather, or other factors.
  • Ditching is the same as a forced landing, only on water. After the disabled aircraft makes contact with the surface of the water, the aircraft will most likely sink if it is not designed to float, although it may float for hours, depending on damage.


If there is no engine power available during a forced landing, a fixed-wing aircraft glides, while a rotary winged aircraft (helicopter) autorotates to the ground by trading altitude for airspeed to maintain control. Pilots often practice "simulated forced landings", in which an engine failure is simulated and the pilot has to get the aircraft on the ground safely, by selecting a landing area and then gliding the aircraft at its best gliding speed.

If there is a suitable landing spot within the aircraft's gliding or autorotation distance, an unplanned landing will often result in no injuries or significant damage to the aircraft, since powered aircraft generally use little or no power when they are landing. Light aircraft can often land safely on fields, roads, or gravel river banks (or on the water, if they are float-equipped); but medium and heavy aircraft generally require long, prepared runway surfaces because of their heavier weight and higher landing speeds. Glider pilots routinely land away from their base and so most cross-country pilots are in current practice.

UAV forced landing research

Since 2003, research has been conducted on enabling UAVs to perform a forced landing autonomously.[1]

Notable examples

Large airliners have multiple engines and redundant systems, so forced landings are extremely rare for them, but some notable ones have occurred. A famous example is the Gimli Glider, an Air Canada Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel and glided to a safe landing in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada on July 23, 1983. On June 1982, British Airways Flight 9, a Boeing 747 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Perth flew into a plume of volcanic ash and lost power in all four engines, three of which subsequently recovered, eventually diverting to Jakarta. On April 28, 1988, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 experienced an explosive decompression when approximately 35 square-meters of aluminium skin separated from the fuselage. The flight was successfully diverted to Kahului Airport with only one casualty, flight attendant Clarabelle "C.B." Lansing who was sucked out when the cabin depressurized.[2]

US Airways Flight 1549 (N106US) after crashing into the Hudson River (crop 2)
Flight 1549 landing on the waters of the Hudson River

Less than a month later, another 737, TACA Flight 110, lost both engines due to bad weather but was able to make a successful deadstick landing on a grass levee on the grounds of NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans, with minor injuries to the passengers and minor damage to the aircraft. Investigations drove the engine manufacturer, CFM International, to modify the engine design to prevent future power loss.

One year later, United Airlines Flight 811, a Boeing 747, suffered a cargo door failure in-flight, separating a section of fuselage with 9 passengers and resulted in cabin depressurization. The plane made a successful emergency landing at Honolulu International Airport.[3] More recently, Air Transat Flight 236 ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean on August 24, 2001 and made a successful forced landing in the Azores. On November 1, 2011 a Boeing 767 LOT Polish Airlines Flight 016 made a belly landing after a central hydraulic system failure at Warsaw, Poland's Frederic Chopin International Airport, with no injuries.[4]

A less successful crash landing involved Southern Airways Flight 242 on April 4, 1977. The DC-9 lost both of its engines due to hail and heavy rain in a thunderstorm and, unable to glide to an airport, made a forced landing on a highway near New Hope, Georgia, United States. The plane made a hard landing and was still carrying a large amount of fuel, so it burst into flames, killing the majority of the passengers and several people on the ground.

Airliners frequently make emergency landings, and almost all of them are uneventful. However, because of their inherent uncertain nature, they can quickly become crash landings or worse. Some notable instances include United Airlines Flight 232, which broke up while landing at Sioux City, Iowa, United States on July 19, 1989; and Air Canada Flight 797, which burned after landing at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on June 2, 1983 after a fire started in the cabin.

Shannon Airport in Ireland has a high number of emergency landings from trans-Atlantic flights, as it is the first major airport after the eastbound ocean crossing.[5][6]

On April 29, 2007, a bird was ingested into the right engine of a Boeing 757 departing Manchester (UK) airport, just as the plane rotated off the runway (flight Thomson 253H). The pilot subsequently made a successful precautionary landing.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Daniel Fitzgerald. "UAV Forced Landing Research". Daniel Fitzgerald. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.
  2. ^ NTSB, Aloha Airlines, Flight 243, Boeing 737-200, N73711, National Transportation Safety Board
  3. ^ NTSB, Explosive Decompression – Loss of Cargo Door in Flight, United Airlines Flight 811 Boeing 747–122, N4713U, National Transportation Safety Board
  4. ^ "Newark flight makes emergency landing in Poland". CNN. November 1, 2011.
  5. ^ http://www.irishcentral.com/travel/more-emergency-landings-at-shannon-as-airport-handles-unprecedented-diversions
  6. ^ http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/shannon-airport-handles-six-unscheduled-landings-1.2922977
  7. ^ "Pilot lands jet after bird strike". BBC News. 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-14.. For an amateur video of the incident, see [1].
Aeroflot Flight 2306

Aeroflot Flight 2306 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Vorkuta to Moscow in the Soviet Union, with a stopover in Syktyvkar. The Tupolev Tu-134 operated by Aeroflot crashed on 2 July 1986 during an emergency landing after it departed Syktyvkar, killing 54 of 92 passengers and crew on board.

Aeroflot Flight 3519

Aeroflot Flight 3519 was a Tupolev Tu-154B-2 airline flight on a domestic route from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk on 23 December 1984. Shortly after takeoff, the No. 3 engine caught fire, and the airplane crashed during an emergency landing. 110 people were killed, and there was one survivor. The aircraft was destroyed in the crash.

Air Force Base Hoedspruit

Air Force Base Hoedspruit (IATA: HDS, ICAO: FAHS) is an airbase of the South African Air Force. It is located adjacent to the Kruger National Park. In the late 1990s an unused portion of the base was converted into a civilian airport known as Eastgate Airport. It was also an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle.

Air Heritage

Air Heritage is an Indian regional airline operator owned by Heritage Aviation.

Alrosa Flight 514

Alrosa Flight 514 was a Tupolev Tu-154 passenger jet on a domestic scheduled flight from Udachny to Moscow, Russia, that on 7 September 2010 made a successful emergency landing at a remote airstrip after suffering an in-flight total electrical failure. All 81 people on board escaped unharmed.

The Tupolev was en route at cruise altitude when the failure occurred, which disabled the fuel system and all navigational and radio equipment, meaning that the aircraft would not have been able to reach its destination. The crew decided to attempt an emergency landing at the disused Izhma Airport. The aircraft overran the end of the runway and came to rest among the vegetation, damaged but still on its landing gear.The crew of Flight 514 were subsequently decorated for their actions, and the aircraft was successfully repaired and flown out of the airfield to resume service with Alrosa.

British Airways Flight 268

British Airways Flight 268 was a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles LAX airport to London Heathrow LHR. On February 20, 2005, the innermost left engine burst into flames triggered by an engine compressor stall almost immediately after take off from LAX. The 747-400 continued to fly across the United States, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean with its three remaining engines despite air traffic controllers expecting the pilots to perform the emergency landing at the airport. The flight then made an emergency landing at Manchester Airport, citing insufficient usable fuel to reach London Heathrow.

Emergency Landing (1941 film)

Emergency Landing (a.k.a. Robot Pilot) is a 1941 American aviation spy-fi romantic screwball comedy film directed by William Beaudine. The film stars Forrest Tucker in his second film and in his first leading role with co-stars Carol Hughes and Evelyn Brent. Emergency Landing features lots of mismatched stock footage of various types of aircraft.

Fedje Heliport, Høgden

Fedje Heliport, Høgden (Norwegian: Fedje helikopterplass, Høgden; ICAO: ENFJ) is a municipal heliport situated on the island of Fedje in Fedje, Norway. It is predominantly used to fly maritime pilots out of the pilot station at Fedje Vessel Traffic Service Centre. It is also used by air ambulances and as an emergency landing site for offshore helicopters. The heliport was built in 1994.

Forced landing

A forced landing is a landing by an aircraft made under factors outside the pilot's control, such as the failure of engines, systems, components or weather which makes continued flight impossible. For a full description of these, see article on emergency landing. However the term also means a landing that has been forced by interception.

A plane may be compelled to land through the use, or threat of use, of force, if it strays off course into hostile foreign territory. The customary procedure is for the military plane to approach the airliner from below and to the left, where his plane is easily visible from the left seat where the captain sits. The forcing plane waggles his wings to signal the demand for a forced landing.International law regulates the treatment of intruding aircraft:

... aircraft that fail to identify themselves, enter the airspace without a necessary permission, deny to follow a prescribed route, head towards a prohibited zone, or violate of a prohibition of flight may, by strict observance of the relevant standards and procedures, as a last resort, be intercepted, identified, escorted to the adequate route or out of the prohibited airspace, or forced to land by military aircraft of the territorial state.

Hansa-Brandenburg W.12

The Hansa-Brandenburg W.12 was a German biplane fighter floatplane of World War I. It was a development of Ernst Heinkel's previous KDW, adding a rear cockpit for an observer/gunner, and had an unusual inverted tailfin/rudder (which instead of standing up from the fuselage, hung below it) in order to give an uninterrupted field of fire.

The W.12s (under the Naval designation C3MG) served on the Western Front, based at the Naval air bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge. The aircraft had some success, and one shot down the British airship C.27.

In April 1918, a W.12 made an emergency landing in the neutral territory of the Netherlands, where it was interned and flight tested by the Dutch. In 1919 the government of the Netherlands bought a licence to build the aircraft. 35 W.12s were subsequently manufactured by the Van Berkel company of Rotterdam as the W-A, serving with the Dutch Naval Air Service until 1933.

Korean Air Lines Flight 902

Korean Air Lines Flight 902 (KAL 902) was a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from Paris to Seoul via Anchorage. On 20 April 1978, Soviet air defense shot down the aircraft serving the flight, a Boeing 707, near Murmansk, Soviet Union, after the aircraft violated Soviet airspace.Flight 902 had veered off course over the Arctic Ocean and entered Soviet airspace near the Kola Peninsula, whereupon it was intercepted and fired upon by a Soviet fighter jet. The incident killed two of the 109 passengers and crew members aboard and forced the plane to make an emergency landing on the frozen Korpiyarvi lake near the Finnish border.

Learmonth Airport

Learmonth Airport (IATA: LEA, ICAO: YPLM) is a civil airport, co-located on the site of RAAF Base Learmonth, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base. The airport is located near the town of Exmouth on the north-west coast of Western Australia, in Australia.

Established in the 1940s as an airfield, the current airport is operated by the Shire of Exmouth under a lease from the Australian Government Department of Defence and occupies an area of 23.9 hectares (59 acres) on the RAAF Base Learmonth site. The terminal opened on 3 December 1999.On 7 October 2008, Qantas Flight 72 made an emergency landing at RAAF Learmonth. On 1 June 2012, an AirAsia X flight to Perth made an emergency landing at Learmonth Airport for refuelling. Learmonth is designated an emergency alternative airport in the case of fog or bad weather affecting Perth Airport.

Marden Airfield

Marden Airfield was an airfield in Marden, Kent, United Kingdom. It was operation from 1917 to 1935. Initially a Royal Flying Corps airfield during the First World War it was used post-war as an Emergency Landing Strip, RAF Marden by the Royal Air Force. It was also known as Pagehurst Emergency Landing Ground. Later serving as a civil Emergency Landing Ground, the airfield closed in 1935. The site housed a Royal Air Force transmitter station during the Second World War.

Northwest Staging Route

The Northwest Staging Route was a series of airstrips, airport and radio ranging stations built in Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska during World War II. It extended into the Soviet Union as the ALSIB (ALaska-SIBerian air road).

RAF Carnaby

RAF Carnaby was a Royal Air Force emergency landing strip that offered crippled bombers a safe place to land near the English coast during the Second World War. It was situated 2 miles (3.2 km) south-west of Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire.

Raxaul Airport

Raxaul Airport (ICAO: VERL) is a hypothetical airport located at Raxaul in the state of Bihar, India. It was established after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, when it served as an emergency landing ground for the Indian Army. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) that owns the airport has undertaken a pre-feasibility study at the airport to upgrade the airport to handle ATR-72 aircraft. A draft Master Plan highlighting a requirement of an additional 121 acres of land has been submitted to the State Government.

Shanghai Longhua Airport

Shanghai Longhua Airport (上海龙华机场) (ICAO: ZSSL), then called Shanghai Lunghwa Airport, is the site of a converted general aviation airport and PLAAF airfield located south of downtown Shanghai, China, on the bank of the Huangpu River. It was opened in the 1930s with a semi-circular Art Deco terminal and served as the city's airport until the 1950s when Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport opened. Thereafter, it was one of two general aviation airports serving Shanghai and also served as an emergency landing site for police, fire and rescue operations southwest of the city.

Space Shuttle abort modes

Space Shuttle abort modes were procedures by which the nominal launch of the NASA Space Shuttle could be terminated. A pad abort occurred after ignition of the shuttle's main engines but prior to liftoff. An abort during ascent that would result in the orbiter returning to a runway or to a lower than planned orbit was called an "intact abort", while an abort in which the orbiter would be unable to reach a runway, or any abort involving the failure of more than one main engine, was called a "contingency abort". Crew bailout was still possible in some situations where the orbiter could not land on a runway.

US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320 which, in the climbout after takeoff from New York City's LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, struck a flock of Canada geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and consequently lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued by nearby boats, and there were few serious injuries.

The accident came to be known as the "Miracle on the Hudson", and a National Transportation Safety Board official described it as "the most successful ditching in aviation history". The Board rejected the notion that the pilot could have avoided ditching by returning to LaGuardia or diverting to nearby Teterboro Airport.

The pilots and flight attendants were awarded the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in recognition of their "heroic and unique aviation achievement".

Assisted take-off
Takeoff and landing


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