We know how stressful and how fast a situation can become fatal. One of the things that bothers me is when a pilot declares an emergency and I hear ATC asking information they should have already (souls on board, fuel/endurance, dangerous cargo, etc.) when all this info could be available in the flight plan already.

Even on a simple VFR flight without filing a flight plan this info should be automatically filed by ATC if/when pilot does the initial clearance call, something like this:

Miami ground
Cessna 48LG
parked GA ramp
with Charlie
VFR northbound 3,000
souls 2, fuel(endurance)3, no cargo

This information will already be with ATC so in case of emergency they ask the least number of questions possible, and free up the pilot from distractions and more stress.

Does something like this should be implemented so that we have more proactive than reactive response to an emergency?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ “Do you think…” is asking for opinions, and the Stack Exchange format is about getting factual answers, rather than discussing what people think about some topic or hypothetical. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Apr 3 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Your suggestion sounds unwieldy. If the aircraft (in your example) declares an emergency in Houston, the Houston ARTCC/TRACON/ATCT would have to get in touch with MIA ATCT and ask them to review the audio from when the pilot called for his/her clearance. This information is not available to the controller at the sector in Houston. Regardless of what the pilot told MIA GC, FOB is always going to be a dynamic figure due to changes in routing, cruising altitude, and wind aloft. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Apr 6 at 4:31

1 Answer 1


As far as souls and cargo, in theory ATC will already have that if there is a flight plan or initial clearance. However:

  • ATC may not be able to get that information instantaneously - in fact likely only if that particular controller/center is already working with that particular flight.
  • VFR general aviation (the Cessna example in the question) may have taken off from a small airport with no clearance required and no tower.
  • In at least some areas, you could have military aircraft seeking assistance in an emergency from civilian ATC or vice versa. Even if each system has relatively complete information about their usual aircraft, they may not have access (particularly civilian ATC for military aircraft) to the "other" system.

But as far as fuel/endurance, ATC will have no idea with the possible exception of a flight that has a problem very shortly after takeoff. If a plane is flying from New York to Los Angeles and has a problem in the midwest, it should have enough fuel to make it the rest of the way to Los Angeles, and therefore to any airport within perhaps 1,000 miles. But that doesn't account for:

  • Whatever caused the emergency in the first place, particularly something like a fuel leak
  • Circumstances that were initially under control but which affected fuel consumption in an unusual way - e.g., landing gear not retracted
  • Unexpected routing due to weather conditions so that the plane has been in the air much longer than it normally would be at this point in the trip

and I am sure many other factors. On the other hand, the pilot will have this information at his/her fingertips and can report it quickly to ATC.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ that's a good point about airports without tower $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Apr 3 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ It's also the case that, apart from endurance, knowing these values is not really necessary to respond to the emergency. Hazmat and fuel in pounds are used to know how big of a "boom" to expect, but if you don't know them, you just assume the worst. Souls on board is used to avoid sending firefighters into danger if you already know everybody is out of the plane, but in the worst case, you just have to send someone in, only to find the plane empty. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 8:42

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