Lets assume this situation: In a controlled airport, two aircraft are approaching for landing. #1 is about to touch the runway (let's assume it is within 1~2 miles from touch zone).

Then #2 declares a emergency.

Is there any rule that require that the first airplane starts a go around, either by its decision or by controller's?

Some assumptions:

  • There is enough separation from #1 to #2. If #1 was allowed to land and it successfully does, that will not significantly interfere with #2 landing.
  • Airfield has just one runway.
  • I'm limiting this to a international accepted, US and/or Brazilian rule.

My concern is that if some incident occurs with #1 on landing, like a gear collapsing, that may render the runway unsuable, causing trouble for the trailing aircraft in emergency.

Speaking in other words: Is an aircraft cleared to land even if another is approaching in a emergency situation?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Note that if the emergency in #2 is not a critical one (e.g. all engines out) #2 is likely to go around to do some checklists before attempting to land with an unstabilized approach. $\endgroup$
    – orique
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ Song cue: "Teterboro Tower" $\endgroup$
    – keshlam
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 5:16
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    $\begingroup$ One point that's not an answer in itself but is relevant: if you're aware that another aircraft is making an emergency landing, you must not land until you've received (additional) clearance, even if you were already cleared to land. In the situation you describe, the controllers would clear #1. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DanHulme Just out of curiosity, is there a official FAA rule that codifies that? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DanHulme Sorry, but are you suggesting that one aircraft declaring an emergency on the Tower frequency means that all issued landing clearances are now cancelled? Even if you're at 50'? Or in the flare? I have NEVER heard of any such rule (certainly not in the US). Once you're cleared to land, that's your clearance until TOWER cancels it -- not another aircraft on frequency! $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 1:47

3 Answers 3


No, the airport wouldn't be closed, and the #1 aircraft doesn't need to go around nor be sent around.

The risk of him shutting down the runway is very slight, and is probably of the same magnitude of risk that sending him around to hold until #2 has landed & the runway has been checked and reopened, would put him into a low-fuel emergency state.

If they are both about the same distance (actually, time) away, then the emergency aircraft has priority (assuming that he doesn't decide to hold in order to troubleshoot, burn down fuel, prepare for the landing, etc), but essentially closing the airport from the time that the emergency has been declared until the emergency aircraft lands, isn't something I've ever seen or heard of.

The runway is often closed following an emergency landing until it can be checked by an airport vehicle, to ensure that it is clear of debris, spilled fuel/oil/hydraulic fluid/etc. And if the emergency aircraft can't clear the runway under its own power, it takes time to get it towed off, possibly pinning the landing gear (to prevent unintended retraction) first. Plus there may be an evacuation after the landing. So closing the runway for some time after the emergency aircraft lands, is entirely possible.

But if the airport has planes in the pattern & the emergency aircraft is 50 miles out, it'd be better to let those who want/need to land, do so, rather than risk them running low on fuel airborne while awaiting the runway's reopening. Same basic logic applies in the #1 / #2 scenario posed above.

If aircraft regularly had their gear collapse & shut down runways unexpectedly, that would be a different story. But that's exceedingly rare, so that isn't the contingency that all planning is based on.

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    $\begingroup$ I actually had a friend in a business jet declare an emergency for smoke in the cockpit, and ATC cleared them to land from quite a distance out. Their next call was "UPS 123... Actually, UPS 123, go around.". $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger that looks a lot like some situation similar to that I described in the question! Thanks a lot for sharing this. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger - UPS 123 was presumably going to be in the way. That backs up the answer quite well that other aircraft will be moved if necessary, but if they aren't in the way they can carry on as normal. ATC will allow as much traffic as they are certain will not impede the under-emergency aircraft $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ "Cleared to land any runway" $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 16:58

Your question is a little vague; depends on the nature of the emergency for aircraft #2.

Declaring an emergency provides the PIC with the power to obtain priority over any other aircraft. If the PIC of aircraft #2 determined that they needed aircraft #1 to execute a go-around, then pilot of #1 aircraft would be expected to do that if able.

I will also add that this scenario is highly unlikely because required separation between the two aircraft would have already established enough time for #1 to land and clear the runway before #2 could get there - regardless of the situation.

  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters The scenario says traffic #1 is 1-2 mi from the threshold, not that both aircraft are VFR and not radar separated. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 7:07
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters: I consider it rude to remove a substantial part of the answer even if it is erroneous. It is much better to leave a comment with proof and let the author decide how to improve his answer. If you feel that your view is not represented by any of the answers, please post your own answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters I second Peter's view here. I have rolled back the revision. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters On the runway there is a separation requirement. #2 cannot touch down before #1 is clear of the active runway of a controlled airport. $\endgroup$
    – Wirewrap
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ What @Thomas says is very relevant. The PIC of the emergency acft is the boss. What ever he wants he will get if at all possible. Even if against some rule or regulation. $\endgroup$
    – Wirewrap
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 10:56

It appears that the situation in your question is hypothetical. There are several aspects missing about the nature of the emergency, condition of the airport etc.

A typical situation will require that the airport will be ready to deal with the emergency, and clear the intended runway where the aircraft declaring emergency can land without delays. In clearing the runway, ATC can advise the #1 airplane to land and quickly clear the runway.

Again hypothetically speaking, after aircraft #2 has declared emergency, #1 can get into a situation where it would require more immediate assistance than #2.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is all hypothetical. My question is more that if the controller/pilots should go safe and make #1 wait until #2 lands, avoiding the small (but existent) possibility that #1 messes with the runway. #1 would have no technical problem in diverting to another near airport in case #2 leads to a closed runway. The emergency could be some pax needing medical assistance, so no risk to the aircraft itself, but a life in danger. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ricardomenzer If ATC were to wait for the emergency aircraft, how long should they wait for? Suppose there were a medical emergency an hour into an SFO->Hawaii flight and it turns back. Would ATC divert all flights into SFO for the next hour, as one of them could "mess with the runway?" Of course not. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @ZachLipton in a situation where the traffic is away from the airport, I agree with you. Diverting to another airport wouldn't add much in trip time. But in my question, the traffic is already in a (long) final, just some few minutes from touching down. In this case, diverting to another airport would cause a significantly amount of time added to the actual landing. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 11:01

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