# Why are there so many 7700 squawks?

I installed an app some months ago, which gives a push message when an aircraft squawks 7700. The first time it happened, I thought the plane was about to crash, but fortunately nothing happened.

However, within the last months, I got a lot of notifications, maybe a few a week or so. I'm wondering, why there are so many emergency alerts?

I've read about possible reasons for 7700 squawks and they seem to be manifold. Isn't the purpose of an emergency call to be used only in really critical scenarios? How is an aircraft going down to be differentiated from one carrying a sick passenger? Are there any plans in the industry to change the current system?

• What app is that? Mar 2, 2018 at 12:10
• Sorry, I can't remember anymore! Mar 7, 2018 at 21:42
• Are you referring to "lots of notifications" (7700 squawks) in the entire U.S. or a selected area with the U.S.? Jan 21 at 2:04
• "Are you referring to "lots of notifications" (7700 squawks) in the entire U.S. or a selected area with the U.S.?" -- or worldwide, or what? Jan 21 at 13:53

7700 is a "general emergency" squawk. It tells ATC that there is "a problem" of some sort with a particular plane. And I agree that this "general umbrella" type of squawk is a good idea. I have several disagreements with the FAA, but this is a good one. Several thoughts:

• the specific nature of the emergency is only for the PIC and ATC. Nobody else needs to be informed, they can't help anyway.
• oftentimes lost comm is part of the problem. So they can't talk, but you still want to show ATC that you have an emergency. You could squawk 7600 for lost comm, but if you have some truly serious, like an engine failure (I personally don't consider lost comm anything even remotely near "truly serious"), you can inform ATC with 7700 that you have a more serious problem than just lost comm. They'll notice the "lost comm" aspect of this situation on their own, by not being able to talk to you. Now they know you have something more serious, because you don't show 7600.
• If you really want to use different squawk codes for different types of emergencies, it would merely add to the already large amount of numbers and codes pilots and controllers have to learn by heart. In an emergency where time might be of the essence, trying to remember abstract information like this can be difficult.

"The first time it happened, I thought the plane was about to crash"

Why did you think that? 7700 is not some "we're gonna die" type of squawk. It's a general "umbrella type" of squawk for all sorts of emergencies. An intelligent pilot will squawk 7700 for any "small" or "big" type of emergency (and who is supposed to be the judge on "big" vs. "small"?).

"How is an aircraft going down to be differentiated from one carrying a sick passenger?"

It isn't, because it doesn't matter. The people that are familiar with the situation (PIC and ATC) are in communication, unless lost comm, in which case the controller who can't glean more info from the 7700 squawk can't help anyway, and nobody else needs to be informed because they can't help anyway. Squawk codes aren't meant for desktop people like you who download some app and watch.

"Would you recommend handling this issue differently than it is done now, if you were in the position to?"

No. There are good reasons to have an "umbrella" type of squawk for all types of emergencies.

• More than just ATC can help. If you squawk 7700 and talk to no one you can still expect to see a fire truck and ambulance where you land. Might not help in the air but you will appreciate it if you need it. Jul 26, 2015 at 17:22
• True, but that doesn't matter for squawking. You don't squawk for fire trucks. Squawking is for ATC. Jul 26, 2015 at 17:28
• True but priority handling, getting other aircraft out of your way and coordinating with ground emergency services is all part of the deal that ATC provides. Jul 26, 2015 at 17:30
• True, but that's not part of the squawking policy. The question is about the regulatory situation, not additional benign, auspicious side effects. We can appreciate positive side effects, it doesn't mean they're the reason for the regulation. The question was about "the purpose of ...". That's about ATC policy, not benign side effects such as fire trucks. Jul 26, 2015 at 17:39
• "The first time it happened, I thought the plane was about to crash" – If the pilots still have time to fiddle about with transponder codes, they are very probably not about to crash. Jul 27, 2015 at 9:16

The reason for squawking 7700 is that Air Traffic Control can easily identify you on the radar display. This eases identification and coordination between air traffic controllers.

The differentiation between various scenarios is done by voice communication, there is no need to complicate the squawk system. Typically there is not more than one aircraft squawking 7700 at the same time in an airspace so the identification based on code 7700 is simple and effective.

If you check on sites like http://avherald.com/ you will see how many incidents are worldwide - most of them are only incidents (and ending in a safe landing), but even then they will be considered an emergency while still in the air.

• This is a comment, not an answer. Jan 21 at 13:54

Isn't the purpose of an emergency call to be used only in really critical scenarios? How is an aircraft going down to be differentiated from one carrying a sick passenger?

The purpose of an emergency call is any situation where the aircraft needs special considerations for it or its occupants to remain safe.

If the plane is going down, the pilots will be struggling to regain control of the plane and won't even think about declaring emergency because nobody can help them with that anyway.

Where declaring emergency is useful is when ATC can actually help. Normally ATC tells pilots (under instrument rules, which all transport aircraft normally follow) where to fly. But when the pilots declare emergency, the controller gives them priority and now the pilot says what they need to do and the ATC will clear the way for them.

Depending on what the nature of the emergency is the pilots will request different things. If one engine quit, they'll probably request returning using turns towards the working engine only, if the gear got stuck they'll request low approach so someone from the tower can look at them with binoculars and tell them some more info about the state of that gear so they know better what to expect on landing, and then probably ask to do some circling to burn off fuel to reduce landing weight, and if a passenger is sick, they'll just ask for fastest possible approach and for ambulance to await them to take the sick to the nearest hospital.

But in all those cases, the point of declaring emergency is to request priority. So there is one squawk code to indicate that.

• "If the plane is going down, the pilots will be struggling to regain control of the plane and won't even think about declaring emergency because nobody can help them with that anyway." This isn't always true. Many crashes are the results of things that the ATC can help with, or that don't result in that sort of immediate loss of control (e.g. running out of fuel, engine failures, etc.). Jan 24 at 11:46
• @nick012000, but in that case the plane is far from “going down“ at the point the emergency is declared. The situation can still go from bad to worse and the plane might eventually crash, but it didn't look like it's about to crash when the emergency was declared – which is another reason not to distinguish emergencies: they can go from bad to worse quite easily. Jan 24 at 16:29