Immediately after an airport incident (e.g. a crash, runway overrun, fire etc.) it is fascinating to hear in recordings the ATC handle various duties so deftly . e.g. Ground vehicles, Fire, Go arounds, the actual aircraft involved, police, medics, tugs, closing runways or airports etc.

Is there any training material on this? I want to read more (My day job is in Chemical Plants & I'm thinking there is stuff we could learn from Aviation Incident Response Procedures).

I imagine these incidents are rare so any given controller doesn't get much by way of prior experience. So the best way to readiness would be via learning from past incidents or guidelines etc.

NTSB reports & past ATC tapes do help a lot but has anyone compiled these learnings into advisory documents? Just like pilots use checklists for difficult situations are there any similar ATC checklists?

  • $\begingroup$ Late to the party, but good on you for wanting to learn from other industries! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Thanks! Its more fun that way too. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


I'll answer from US ATC perspective having worked ATC at 3 different airports. First, I'll describe the alerts, then I'll describe training

As with all things, each airport has different procedures for how they handle emergencies or accidents. For each airport, the airport operator and the ATC Tower will come up with numerous Letter's of Agreement for how they want to handle things from lighting to emergency services. My first airport had 2 alert conditions, Orange and Red. Orange was go to standby positions, something is inbound requesting emergency services to be ready in case something happens. These are relatively common. Red was an actual accident/crash.

The more common alerts are broken up into 3 categories I, II, and III. Alert I alerts are usually, a heads up to the crews to just be ready, but not go to the runway. Alert II are go to the standby positions, somebody's inbound with an issue and services are needing to go there. When this alert is declared, often as soon as the plane lands the runway is closed automatically until the airport inspects it(making sure no debris fell off the aircraft on landing). And Alert III is an actual crash. Most of the times, this is an immediate closure of the airport. This is due to the emergency services focusing on the accident and can't be available if something else were to happen on the field. Note, super large airports can have enough spare capacity to keep portions of the field still operating, depending on what all they have and how their command/control works.

Training wise, it's often just on the job training and usually the light emergencies, where people just need to get back or gear stuck or similar non-crash emergencies. Usually in the course of a controller's training at their facility they'll get a couple of these and know how to react. There are discussions of past issues as well, when there's time and resources available to do these types of discussions. Full on crashes, as stated are rare, so likely the first time a controller has to deal with it, they'll have seen small issues in the past to help prepare them.

  • $\begingroup$ Great insights. Is there any FAA guidance on these topics? Did you run simulated crashes for testing response? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ No simulations, though some airports might have them in place. There's numerous FARs and Advisory Circulars on what's required and how airports are to deal with emergencies, but for controllers and their training, I'm not aware of anything in particular. $\endgroup$
    – slookabill
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 15:00

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