“MAYDAY vs PAN PAN” Why do pilots use these CALLS? Explained by CAPTAIN JOE

“MAYDAY vs PAN PAN” Why do pilots use these CALLS? Explained by CAPTAIN JOE

Dear friends and followers, welcome back to my channel and as you just heard in the intro, We’ll be looking at the famous MAYDAY call: Where it originated? When to use it? How to make such a call? And what the difference is to the PAN-PAN call? So brace yourself and let’s get started Mayday! Mayday! (Comedian) May day? What’s he talking about? (laughter) That was weeks ago, it’s nearly June! Ok, let’s start off with a little history lesson to get a better understanding. In the early 1920s, radio communication become more common among aviators. Before that, the primary way of communication was via Morse Code. So in case of a distress call, the Morse Code “SOS” was transmitted. But as Morse code got more and more outdated, air-traffic control had to come up with a universal word in case of a distress/an emergency situation. Now the English word “Help” wouldn’t do the job as it was commonly used in normal conversation, where no one was actually in distress. So senior air traffic controller Frederick Mockford working at Croydon Airport in London England… …was given the job to think of one word that would be easy to understand for all pilots… …and ground staff in the event of an emergency. And as he primarily dealt with British and French pilots flying between London and Paris Le Bourget, he heard the French pilots using the word: … “M’aidez”, and if you type in “M’aidez” into google translator, you get “Help me” in English. To him it sounded very much like “May Day”, which distinguish itself from all other words used in standard phraseology So Mockford decided to present the word “MAYDAY” at the International Radio Telegraph Convention of Washington in 1927. “MAYDAY” was agreed on by all participating parties to be the official call… …to communicate the most serious level of distress such as a life-threatening emergency. But, what defines a MAYDAY call or a life-threatening situation in an airplane? This video right here provided by my dear YouTube colleague, VAS Aviation, … …shows a perfect example on when to use a Mayday call and how pilots dealt with an emergency situation. And a British Airways 747 is rolling down the runway and suddenly after v1, … …engine number 3 started surging and spitting flames out at the back. And the Phoenix tower controller advises speedbird that sparks are coming out of one of their engines. The pilot responds in a calm voice: … And saying “Stand by” kind of puts the controller on hold. In the meantime, the controller quickly advises the approaching United about the situation: … Cause you never know if any debris of the faulty engine might be on the runway, … …potentially damaging landing planes. The go-around performed by United was definitely a good choice. Again the controller is trying to help, but the BA pilot again tells him to stand by. Now you might ask yourself: What is the BA pilot doing? Why doesn’t he want the help of the controller and kind of tells him to back off? He’s applying the Golden Rule any pilots should do in an emergency situation. “Aviate”: He is flying his plane. That is the most important task for him at that moment and what he was trained for in the simulator. That involves stabilizing the plane’s attitude, flight path, and performing the memory items according to the failure. Now the second most important thing is to “Navigate”: keeping the plane on the runway track or to fly the Engine Out Procedure. Because it’s no good having dealt with your problem, but not knowing where you are. Now the third and last task is to communicate with the controller. He clearly states that he needs help by calling out “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY”, so remember always three times. He mentions the nature of the emergency, the route they’ll be flying and climbing to, … …and that they’ll enter the holding and ATC shall stand by for further intentions Perfect! The holding buys him some time to deal with follow-up checklist and to prepare for the approach… …and dump fuel to lower the landing weight. And the pilot even has time to ask: By the book. What more can I say? Well, it’s British Airways. What else do you expect? In the meantime, the tower advises all emergency service vehicles… …to get in position for the incoming emergency plane. Even divert incoming traffic, cancel all departures to make space for the emergency aircraft. So, what is the primary reason for to BA pilot to call out a MAYDAY? He’s at low altitude, has had an uncontrollable engine, … …which he had to purposely shut down to avoid possible engine separation, … …damages to the fuselage or even worse flight control problems. And that is a life-threatening situation… …and requires a MAYDAY call. Now another great example is the Boeing 757 by Thomson had encountered a bird strike just after rotation. But see it for yourself: *puff puff puff etc.* So any failures including a fire or a smoke on board the plane, pressurization failures, hydraulic failures… …like including the landing gear or flight controls, et cetera, … …in most cases, will trigger the master warning in the cockpit. And their respective procedures are listed under the red section of non-normal checklist, … …which very often has the consequence that you have to land at the next suitable airport ASAP(as soon as possible). And a MAYDAY call will give you that necessary help from air traffic control and alert all emergency service vehicles at the chosen airport. But there’s another call you can use depending on the severity of the emergency. See what happens in this video: Now Air Arabia is cleared for takeoff and as they are in their initial climb phrase, this happens: This is the Mayday’s little brother: the so called “PAN-PAN” call. “PAN” originates, again, from the French word “Panne”. So google translator. It’s the French word for “Breakdown” or something’s broken. And the definition of PAN-PAN call is: A situation that is urgent, … …but for the time being does not pose an imminent danger to anyone’s life or to the vessel itself. Now this applies to this scenario: The pilot clearly states he has engine vibrations, so the engine is still running Maybe not at its full capacity, but less threatening than the surging engine from the previous scenario. Again, the pilots aviate, navigate, communicate in that order. The controller actually offers him radar vectors to stay in the vicinity of the airport: That’s a smart move for the controller as radar vectors reduces the stress level for the pilot… …as they have one less thing to worry about to navigate or follow a specific route Even better, the controller gives them a discrete frequency, … …which is more or less a private frequency for the pilots with one controller, … reducing the stress level even more for the pilots as the controller will only be calling them… …and no one else can be heard on that frequency. And just after that, you can hear the controller advising all other traffic waiting at runway 18 left… …to hold their position as the PAN-PAN plane will be coming around within the next few minutes: And again a runway inspection has to be performed: The pilots now seem to have the situation under control, although the engine is still vibrating. And as this is only a PAN-PAN call, he requests, via ATC, for the fire brigade to be waiting at the runway… …once they’ve landed in case of an engine fire or similar issues. Another great example by VAS Aviation is the recording of a Virgin Atlantic pilot, … …who got hit by a laser shortly after takeoff. But hear it for yourself: At that moment, it’s not a life-threatening situation. The plane is alright, but one of the pilots needs medical attention and they decide to fly back to Heathrow. There is no need for a fire brigade or similar. So a PAN-PAN call was definitely the right choice But just a tiny mistake my colleague made, the correct call is “PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN”. And this goes out to the boys with their little laser pointers, get a life for crying out loud! Now there’s one final call, which probably is used more often than the two famous ones, the request for a priority landing. It’s not an official call, but very often used in case of a passenger medical emergency. Now to a lot of misconception people tend to say, the pilot performed an emergency landing. Well, actually he didn’t. He just requested a priority landing or diverted to another airport. He didn’t declare a MAYDAY or a PAN-PAN, neither did he squawk the emergency code “7700”. You remember the mnemonic? One more interesting fact, you can also call out a MAYDAY for another aircraft. If the pilot isn’t aware of evolving fire, for example. Now listen to this recording: Who else could it be than my buddy Kennedy Steve? Or another way of dealing with a brisk situation is this Delta pilot: And if it’s the most normal thing for him. I just love the coolness by the Americans. It’s like: Yeah, an engine failure, what else is new? He may have left out the MAYDAY call, but by saying “We’re declaring an emergency” has the same effect. So, to sum up, you as a pilot can make the decision if you either declare an emergency… …with a mayday call, if you need immediate assistance as you are in a life-threatening situation, … …or if you feel the failure is only minor and you can control the situation, you declare a PAN-PAN. But not every engine failure is consequently a MAYDAY call. Keep that in mind. That’s it for today. Thank you very much for your time. To become my wingman, hit that subscribe button and activate the notification bell… …so you won’t miss out upcoming videos. And don’t forget, a good pilot is always learning. See you next week. All the best, your Captain Joe.

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. "m'aidez" is not even correct French. You would never find a French person saying "m'aidez" like that. Either it is in a full sentence (je vois que vous m'aidez, I see that you are helping me) or it is "Aidez moi", the correct way to say "Help me".
    But Mayday works, so that is not a problem.

  2. 'panne', pronounced with two syllables, is also used in german, mostly to describe a car breakdown.
    a 'reifenpanne' describes a flat tire.

  3. Hi there. I seem to have noticed that almost all these emergencies there is always video footage of the planes landing or taking off. Is there someone at the airports that there sole job is to video landings and take off, or is this just done by enthusiasts and they hand in the footage if something goes wrong ?

  4. I've always wondered, if a pilot becomes depressed, is your job and career immediately at risk if the possibility of a mental illness is brought up?

  5. Shooting a plane with a laser is basically a terrorist attack in effect. I doubt the idiot kids who does this realize what they are doing…

  6. Public use lasers should never be so powerful it can travel KILOMETRES. That's asking everyone that owns one to try point at a plane. These should be illegal

  7. Can you do a video on Denver airport's Swastika shaped runways and the length of each of the 3 segments about 2.22 miles or 6.66 miles?? Considering the 30 Million passengers Denver handles with its 50 square miles airport complex whereas LAX is 5 square miles and handles 90 million passengers.

  8. I hereby decree that every commercial airplane shall carry 1 laser guided precision paintball cluster bomb.

  9. English isn't my native language but I use it in my everyday job and thought that I know it and can understand (except of Indian english – sorry, but that's true). But listening to those records… F…c, I didn't get any single word without subtitles. How do you understand each other, guys?

  10. Shoulda' mentioned that pan pan and mayday calls aren't exclusive to you wing jockeys…it's also sop for nautical vessels in distress.

    The big difference is that, as a sailor, I can make my calls in a pirate accent. If a pilot tries that, questions as to their sanity and competence will quickly arise.

  11. The military have another call “NODUF”, then state the emergency. It’s used to indicate that the message is real, not a training simulation.

    The worst one I heard was “NODUF, Sunray Tango 4 has been killed. Tank slipped from bridge”. What that meant was D squadron leader has killed.

  12. Everyone: "This video taught me some stuff"
    Me: "That's the same ambient music that The Slow Mo Guys use in their slow mo footage!"

  13. You forgot "Securite, Securite, Securite" which is used for issues involving navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, and any other warning needing to be issued that may concern safety but not be life-threatening. I was a shipborne anti-submarine air controller in the Royal Canadian Navy.

  14. I am from Russia, from ural airlines.. I think that you know our a321, and they have emergency landing, and he (pilot said) said pan pan. But he's engine( 2 engine ) were off. I think that he should have said mayday

  15. This was interesting. I am not anyhow within aviation but still, I'm going to look around on this channel 🙂

  16. Airliners: "Mayday, Mayday Mayday. (Airline and callsign). We have lost one engine, requiring immediate landing. We have 125 souls onboard
    Glider Pilots: Regularly lands with 0 engines

  17. TL:DR
    "Pan-Pan" – we need to land as soon as possible but we are not in troubke
    "Mayday" – we need to land right now, we are in trouble

  18. We flew Orion when we deployed to Afghanistan. We flew Orion on the way back as well. The return flight home was a bit scary for me. I sat on the left side, window seat, center of the wing. Being that I'm not a frequent flyer, when I heard the left engine make this, to what I thought was an unusual noise, I almost shit my pants. Told the flight attendant about it and I don't know what she did from there but we flew the rest of the flight home. I guess since I'm wasn't a frequent flyer at that time, that it was just a noise I wasn't accustomed to hearing and overreacted a bit.

  19. holy shit. im just in complete awe of how calm and professional all involved in aviation are. Pilots and ATC's are just supreme beings.

  20. 11:05 "PAN-PAN PAN-PAN PAN-PAN"… Captain Joe…
    ➡Why ATC uses the word "heavy" pls explain… Will wait until you reply
    ➡ 12:22 he might be dealing it with daily 😂🤣

  21. Thank you for this helpful video. Again, this makes me much more confident in flying in an airplane. A really good example for experienced pilots who can't be disturbed!

  22. So my buddy was flying out of Phoenix, and the plane ended up having a cabin pressurization fault, and it went unnoticed until they got to around 15000' by which point the pilot noticed his ears popping really bad, and my friend was also in a bit of pain, babies were crying, and so the pilot makes the announcement of them having to turn back and return to the Phoenix Airport. Then they were stuck in Phoenix for 6 hrs while they were fixing the problem.

  23. Hi Joe, if you ever happen to read this. What call should LMI2933 or Avianca Flight 52 have used? They ran out of fuel and in both cases failed to communicate that (there are obviously more details to it) – given that you don't run out of fuel all of a sudden, should they have called a PANPAN couple minutes before? emergency landing? MAYDAY when using reserves?

  24. The third emergency status less used and more common with ships is SECURITY SECURITY used to assist, relay or provide emergency information by taking control of the frequency. Something not needed under positive air control.

  25. always have great respect to pilots now your channel just make that respect goes up to a whole new level! Thank you Captain!

  26. Dumbaszes who shine lasers at planes/pilots and fly drones near the airport should be used for closeup jet engine exhaust temperature testing.

  27. It was the onboard light meal time. The French pilot in the cockpit received his meal from one from the cabin crew. He found out his favourite brioche bun was missing from the tray. The reluctance gathered in his mind. "Pain! Pain! Pain! Pain! Pain! Pain!" Unfortunately, he was spluttering coincidentally while his copilot was communicating with the tower …

  28. your just one subscriber low now 'cause i have a laser pointer and I'll definitely point it at you and your captain

  29. "Get a life" he says to the people who use lasers to damage the eyes of pilots just doing their job. He is too nice to say what I would say "fuck you, bastards".

  30. I've heard of A380 pilots calling pan-pan for an engine out (overheated and shut down) as an example of an engine failure that's not a Mayday.

  31. This is why I love flying. Total pros 😀
    I know with a ridiculous degree of certainty that I'll reach my destination alive.

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